It can be easy to see life through your own lens and perspective. As parents with children on the spectrum, there are moments when our lenses as parents may have been misunderstood by those assuming our children had neurotypical behaviors and processes.
While it is no fault to anyone that misunderstandings arise due to lack of knowledge about autism, here is my list of things a parent with a child on the spectrum would like for you to know:
When you refer to my child, please don't say "he is autistic". I'd prefer you to say, "he has autism". Individuals with autism are intricately woven together like an artful masterpiece. It is to our discredit to focus on one attribute and miss out on the beauty of the entire person.
Don't assume! If my child is behaving differently or making loud noises in public, it does not mean I'm not a good parent. I’m already blaming myself as it is and I don’t need you to do it, too. Sometimes the environment plays a major part in the life of an individual impacted by autism. Empathy goes a long way.
There’s a difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. It’s not always them not getting what they want; oftentimes, they know what they want but have difficulty telling us. Trying to form the words attached to their thoughts can be challenging. It’s not a tantrum, it’s a meltdown.
Offer a lending hand even if it's for a short period of time. It's music to my ears when I hear, "how can we help"? To know that I don't have to go through trying moments alone is very uplifting. Let parents know that they are not alone in the challenges of raising children on the spectrum.
Be mindful of food sensitivities. Just because it's good for your child, it may not be for mine. We don't mind you offering but it’s courteous to ask us first.
Include us! Invite us to your events and family gatherings sometimes. You might be surprised that my child might not have a meltdown and actually enjoy himself. And even when you invite us, it may not be an opportune time but give us the option to choose. Exclusivity is overrated!
Be courteous and call. It may not be a good idea to just pop-up unannounced. Although the sun might be shining outside our home, it could be raining meltdowns on the inside. Just give a quick call before you drop by.
One child is one child. Knowing one child with autism is just that, knowing one particular individual with autism. A child on the spectrum is uniquely different. Some like to be hugged, others prefer not to be touched. In fact, they are just as normal as any other child.
Be a part of our journey. Accept my child the way I accept yours. Celebrate my child the way I celebrate yours. It takes a village and we need you.
Where there is knowledge, there is power. Where there is power, there is an opportunity! It is my hope that sharing these things, we as a world can become more aware and sensitive to those impacted by autism and ultimately create a world more inclusive of it!
Cassie Cephas is a mother of six children, one of whom received a late diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. You can read more about her journey here. Cassie currently works with Terri Matthews, CEO & Founder of Jaden’s Voice, a non-profit that provides vital advocacy grant support to autism centers, awareness information, and resources to families impacted by autism.