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Want to help a parent who has a child on the spectrum? Don't say these things

January 27, 2019

Parenting a child is not easy, and when you have a child with a disability, the challenges are even more given the lack of support. While there are a growing number of schools and NGOs that reach out to children with autism, the onus is finally on parents and caregivers, who need empathy and understanding.

Instead, what autism parents are often confronted with are questions that can be awkward and even intrusive. Sometimes people even make insensitive jokes or offer unsolicited advice.

For Smitha Babu, who has a daughter on the spectrum, such experiences are often hurtful.

When we are outdoors, my daughter is uncomfortable as she lacks the social skills to handle crowds. So, people tell me that she is behaving awkwardly and that is because I have not trained her well. I am even told that I do not care for her like a teenager should be. This hurts a lot and then I have to tell them she has autism. I do not blame them completely, they are just unaware. - Smitha Babu, Autism parent

So, remember to be mindful when you speak to a parent who has a child on the spectrum. Remember never to say these things.

  • "Your child needs discipline" - Children on the spectrum are unsure about how to handle social situations and can show that in different ways. Avoid offering advice or opinions about the behaviour. Don't say things like they need discipline. If the child is throwing tantrums for instance, it is understanding, care and patience they need.
  • "Thank God that it is not worse" -The struggles faced by children with autism and their parents are many and there is no measuring scale for this. So, avoid making such pointless statements and instead give the family the space needed to handle the situation.
  • "Leave them alone" - A child with autism needs training to eat independently or go to the washroom. Telling the parents to leave the child alone and find his or her own way is definitely not on.
  • "This too shall pass" - Autism is a lifelong, developmental condition. Parents need to provide their child with therapies and support system right through so a statement like this offers no comfort.

Experts say that since autism is an invisible disability, parents and caregivers routinely encounter such remarks, when in fact they need empathy and support.

"Such remarks are especially common when the child is a teenager or an adult. There is a long way to go when it comes to awareness about disabilities in our society", says Shiny Vinson, Principal, Navajeevan School.

So, if you really want to help a parent or caregiver who is trying to cope with a child who is upset or throwing a tantrum, often the best approach is to simply ask them what you can do to help them.

ALSO READ: What causes autism? Some information

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