If you are a neurotypical parent raising an autistic child, let me be perhaps one of the first autistic adults you’ve ever heard say this: Yes, it’s hard.
I may get some flack for this article, but I think this is a conversation we need to have.
I often see memes and articles about how difficult it is to raise an autistic child, or how parents of autistic children have stress levels comparable to that of combat veterans.
You know what, parents? You’re right. It’s hard. You’re exhausted, you’re scared, you’re confused, you don’t know what’s going to happen next or what to do. But guess what? So is your autistic child! Your little one is just as exhausted and scared and confused as you are (maybe even more so).
I think one of the main reasons neurotypical parents have such a difficult time raising neurodivergent children is because they try (sometimes without even realizing it) to get their children to do, talk, act, and think like them.
I understand that this approach is mostly based on wanting what is best for your child. After all, you don’t want to see them hurt or bullied, and you want them to be happy and successful in life.
But here’s what you’re missing: You and your child are speaking two different languages, and you cannot understand each other.
This means you don’t even have the basic building blocks to even BEGIN to communicate with and understand each other, and this is what’s causing the battles.
Parents Are Taught How to Make Their Child Appear Neurotypical
When a child is given an autism diagnosis, parents are simply told that their child is different. Directly or indirectly, parents are guided to do all they can to make the child “passable” as a neurotypical as much possible in order for them to succeed in life.
However, parents aren’t taught the most critical thing.
They are not taught what their child is experiencing and how the child perceives the world. If this were part of the “toolkit” given to parents of autistic children from the start, open communication between neurotypes would be possible without anyone having to change!
After all, how can you successfully teach someone if you don’t even speak the same language?
Ask Adult Autistic People
Parents, it’s not fair to you that you’re not given the proper tools to learn how to communicate with your autistic child and help them better navigate and understand their world (and yours). Also, it’s not your fault. Your doctor may have scared the hell out of you when your child first received their diagnosis, and you’ve been floundering ever since.
So, since your doctor isn’t going to be very helpful, ask us! Adult autistic people are an invaluable, widely untapped resource for information about autistic children. Why? Because we used to be autistic children!
Plus we were there on the front lines when autism was thought of as a “disease” that only boys got, and this neurology was almost always associated with a near-complete lack of ability on the part of the autistic person to understand and communicate.
Which means those who did have the diagnosis were wrongly treated as though they were incapable, when they just didn’t fit into the neurotypical paradigm, and people like me, a late-diagnosed female autistic, were just written off and punished for “acting weird on purpose”!
We couldn’t win, and we have the scars to show it– and believe us, we do not want your children to experience the same horrors!
Learn How to Work With Your Children, Not Against Them
When you talk with autistic adults who are open to the idea of helping you navigate the autistic world (not all of us can do it, but there are some who do, like me), you will learn how and why your child does, says, or reacts to things the way they do. You’ll understand the autistic mind and our neurology, and come to understand it as a language that is simply different from your own.
Having this perspective will help you to stop unwittingly working against your child by trying so desperately to have them think, talk, and act like a neurotypical person. You won’t get angry as easily, because you’ll stop ascribing neurotypical intentions to your autistic child.
Here’s one example of what I mean by ascribing neurotypical intentions:
An autistic child may jump and startle easily because you walked into a room unexpectedly. This may make you think that they did something against the rules that they are now trying to hide.
When you confront them about it, the autistic child may be unable to speak, or start stammering and moving their eyes around all over the place.
For a neurotypical child, these behaviors might be a sign of guilt, but for an autistic, they are a sign of fear and confusion.
Their routine has just been interrupted, and they didn’t see you standing there. Now, because their nervous system literally won’t let them, they can’t convey this information to you verbally, and the frustration, coupled with your accusations, might cause a meltdown and further alienate you from your own child. Trust will be lost on both sides from a simple misunderstanding.
That is just one example of hundreds of ways that an autistic person will speak, act, and behave in a way that means something completely different for us from how it would for a neurotypical person.
Again, it is essentially a different language, and we autistic adults are fluent in it. So, please, where we are available, ask us questions. Most of us are pretty blunt and forthright, and we will explain to you what’s happening from your child’s perspective.
Parenting your autistic child doesn’t have to be a battle, and it doesn’t have to be so draining.
Once you learn how to speak our language, you can teach your child to understand your language (neurotypical behaviors and motivations), and you’ll eventually both be on a more level playing field.
And on a level playing field, battles stop and healing begins.