Juliana is a mother of five, and she has a son with High Functioning Autism.
In my previous article, 5 Lessons My Child With Autism Taught Me, I addressed five important lessons I've learned from my 9-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum. In this article, I'd like to discuss some of the lessons we hope others can learn from us. There is still so much stigma surrounding autism, and I hope this article will give you a better understanding of what autism is and what autism moms really wish you knew.
1. We didn't cause our child's autism.
Despite what many people think, autism isn't actually caused by "refrigerator mothers", bad parenting, or vaccines. While the jury is still out on why our children have autism (though genetics are thought to play a role), these myths have been repeatedly debunked. One of the most painful things to hear as a mother is that you must have done something wrong to cause this lifelong struggle for your child. Mom guilt is hard enough for mothers of neurotypical kids, but it can be soul-crushing for mothers of kids on the spectrum. We're already raising children and wondering daily if they'll ever meet milestones that parents of only neurotypical kids often take for granted. We don't need to be told that if we'd done something differently, our child would have had an easier life.
2. These kids aren't misbehaving; they're struggling.
Oftentimes, people suggest we discipline differently because our children are just "defiant". If we spanked them, if we grounded them, if we punished them better, perhaps we wouldn't have so many meltdowns. This is not the case! Kids on the spectrum often suffer from sensory overload, which is a huge contributing factor to meltdowns. They also tend to have impaired social skills, so they're not aware that some of the things they're doing are considered socially unacceptable or "poor behavior," and we can't punish this out of them. Next time you see a mom of a child who is struggling, try offering to help her in other ways besides offering your criticism about her discipline. You never know if she's an autism mom who is doing the best she can with and for her child.
3. Just like neurotypical children, children on the autism spectrum are all very different!
You would not believe how many times people have suggested that my child with high functioning autism couldn't be on the spectrum because he was too verbal or didn't match their stereotype of autism. In fact, autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder because it's so diverse. No two children on the spectrum will be the same, just like no two neurotypical children are exactly alike. Some may be nonverbal, while others may talk your ear off if they're interested in a topic. Just because someone knows how to communicate verbally or is better with social skills than another doesn't mean they don't have autism.
4. My child has feelings, too.
So many people think the trademark of autism is a lack of empathy, feelings, or desire to socialize. This could not be further from the case. Children with autism are aware of others teasing them; they just often don't understand why. Again, this is because they struggle with social skills, and they often don't realize that a behavior of theirs is considered strange to their peers. My son has had his feelings hurt plenty of times, but he's also right there to make others feel better when their feelings are hurt because he knows what it feels like to be teased or made fun of. My child wants friends just like yours does, but my child struggles with social skills and has a harder time making friends. But I assure you, that doesn't mean he doesn't have feelings.
5. Just because my child is on the spectrum doesn't mean he isn't smart.
In fact, a lot of kids on the spectrum are gifted or brilliant. My son wasn't able to speak until almost age four, but he was able to read long before then. He would kick his feet when he saw the word "kick" or clap his hands when he read the word "clap". By the time he could speak, he quickly learned the periodic table of elements, the planets and all their moons, the states and capitols and how to do reading and math at middle school levels. I hate the stereotype that children on the spectrum are not intelligent, because each child on the spectrum you'll meet will be talented and gifted in his or her own way. Please don't make comments about a child's intellect who happens to have autism!
This concludes my list. Do you have anything you would add? What are some things you really hate to hear as an autism mom? Comment below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Juliana Evans Horsley (author) from Birmingham, Al on June 17, 2019:
Thank you for your comment! Yes, it’s very important to do your homework as a parent on the therapists, doctors and teachers who will be aiding your child!
Jason B Truth from United States of America on June 16, 2019:
Beautifully written article, Juliana. However, I think that the biggest rule of thumb for any parent to follow is to protect their children from shady shrinks regardless of whether their kid is autistic or neurotypical. There is a lot of greed nowadays in the mental-health profession.