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Things you should not say to parents of children with autism

In parenting corner this week we talk about comments that parents of children on the autism spectrum often have to listen to from family, friends, colleagues, even random strangers that are meant well, but should never have been said in the first place. Words that often unintentionally hurt or upset. These comments may seem innocent enough, but they can touch a nerve. Here is a list of some of the things that you should never say.

Raising a child comes with many challenges. When it's a child on the autism spectrum, the challenges are more and these are compounded by the attitudes parents encounter often from well meaning people.

It's not just strangers, even family members and friends can ask the weirdest of questions or pass insensitive comments. Sometimes they are unintentionally said, often they are meant to hurt.

Today, the world regards Pratibha Bhatnagar's 27-year-old son, Akshay as a success, but when he was diagnosed with autism as a child, it was a different story. Akshay, who is employed with a private firm in Jaipur, has many awards and recognitions to his credit, but Pratibha can never forget the hurtful comments from relatives.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law used to insult Akshay a lot with comments like 'stupid'. They even said they would have killed themselves if they had a son like Akshay. I would cry a lot and feel terrible but I made myself stronger. I wanted to show the world that Akshay can be just like any other youngster and I worked towards making him independent. -Pratibha Bhatnagar, parent of adult with autism.

Such comments are clearly cruel but there are statements people make with the best of intentions that can seem unkind too. Here are some that should be avoided at all cost.

  • Your child does not look autistic - There are no defined looks for someone with autism, be it a child or an adult. What this shows is acute lack of awareness on the part of the person saying it.
  • You do so much for your child - Every parent goes overboard to protect and reach out to their child. When you have a child with autism, you might have to take less travelled road or maybe even the longer route. Every parent has the right to take the approach they want.
  • You should consult a priest/guru/shaman - In India, most parents who have a child with autism have heard this. In a country where everything is expected to be cured and healed by religious 'gurus' and priests, this is a frequent question. Autism is a developmental disorder that can affect the social skills, behaviour and speech of an individual. If diagnosed early, the child can undergo therapies which will help them to become independent. But no priests or 'gurus' please.
  • This too shall pass - Autism is not a sickness to be cured. Its a lifelong condition.

Mumbai-based Archana Patil, whose son Jatin has autism is exceptionally good at academics. But he has got here with a lot of struggle. Archana had to change many schools because of the insensitivity he was subjected to.

"We had to keep changing schools for him because he was constantly harassed and abused due to his condition. We finally got him into an inclusive school". Many parents even questioned whether Jatin was actually on the spectrum as he had won a scholarship. "It was an insulting statement", says Archana. Even today, Jatin's grandparents and many relatives have not accepted him.

So, instead of saying the first thing that comes to your mind, try saying this instead - I don't know much about autism but would like to know more when you feel like talking about it.

ALSO READ: What causes autism? Some information

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