If my son is behaving in a way that you don’t like or which you think is dangerous for himself or others, and I say to you, “My son is autistic,” that does not mean:
- That I am excusing or justifying or even defending his behavior.
- That you should just keep doing what you’re doing like I said nothing.
- That you know more about what to do in that situation than I do, even if you’re an expert (you may be an expert in whatever activity we’re doing, but you’re not an expect in doing it with an autistic child).
Rather, what it means is:
- You should shut up and listen, because
- You are almost certainly doing something that is completely ineffective, or
- You are doing something that will make things worse, which could mean
- You are creating an even more dangerous situation.
When a parent of an autistic child is telling you that their child is autistic, it’s usually because there is a situation occurring in which what is being said and done will make things worse, not better. While threats (of not doing the activity, for example) may work with neurotypical children, they don’t work with autistic children. They either won’t care or, worse, they will care a great deal and be pushed toward having a meltdown over it.
If you are actually concerned about safety, and a parent tells you that their child is autistic, it’s time for you to shut up and listen, because it’s clear to the parent that whatever you’re doing or saying is making things more dangerous. You don’t dismiss us, and you certainly don’t double down.
We parents of autistic children know what works. It’s your job to seriously shut up and listen. I cannot emphasize this enough: S.T.F.U. and LISTEN!
Now, once you are listening, once you are paying attention, you will be told how to solve the problem. More likely, the parent will have a better solution once you explain to the parent what you need from their child. And if you want to actually have a positive interaction with an autistic child, don’t threaten, don’t raise your voice–literally don’t do anything you think would work, because you’re wrong.
Rather, calmly address the child and use reason to explain to them why they shouldn’t do what they’re doing. They will listen. And they will give you the behavior you want. Because while the autistic child may often appear like they’re not behaving rationally, the fact is that they respond to reason better than a neurotypical child does.
So, please, the next time someone tells you, “My child is autistic,” just shut up and listen. The person isn’t looking to make excuses. They’re trying to help you understand. And they’re trying to help you solve the problems occurring with their child.