Ten Commandments of Parents with Kids on the Autism Spectrum
By Mari Nosal
Mari Nosal demonstrates her pride as a parent by sharing 10 ways that others can effectively support and interact with individuals with autism and their families.
- Thou shall not avoid my family when you see us in a public place. Autism is not a communicable disease. It is merely a way of life. You will not catch it by being my friend. Hang out with me and my family and learn about us. Once you understand our challenges it will be self-evident that we have hopes, dreams, and feelings. We love our children just as much as you love yours. Who knows, you might grow to accept us if you give us a chance.
- Thou shall not judge my family. If my child is having a meltdown and seems inconsolable, do not assume I am an incompetent parent. You cannot always judge a book by its cover. Do not tell me that my child is spoiled, ask me why I cannot control him, or tell me that my child needs to be punished. He is already punished enough by remarks from people who assume they know what is best for my family, even when they do not even know us. I am attempting to be a good parent. Your negative remarks hurt me greatly. Your positive remarks give me the internal strength to go on, and rejuvenate my belief in me and my child.
- Thou shall be patient. My child may have a large expressive vocabulary. This is rote knowledge that has been memorized. In this case, he may not process (receptive language) what others say unless it is presented in a literal, concise, and direct manner. My child may lack a large vocabulary (expressive vocabulary) but make no mistake that he can comprehend you through his receptive vocabulary. Get to know my child and convey messages through his learning style. You will be surprised at what a wonderful child he is if you get to know him.
- Thou shall not snub my other children. It is difficult for neurotypical siblings to grow up with a sibling that has special needs. My heart breaks for my children when other children decline sleepovers, parties, and more because of my special needs child. Providing equal attention to all my children is quite the balancing act. Their sibling with disabilities occasionally requires more time and energy. This is not by choice but necessity. Please make a point to help out and make my other children feel welcome at your home or functions.
- Thou shall not judge my housekeeping skills. My house may occasionally be in disarray. That mess is a sign of love; a sign of a family that has placed priorities on going to therapy appointments, doctors, social groups, and more over the importance of several dust balls. We balance jobs, carpools, and daycare, just like the rest of society as well.
- Thou shall believe in my child. Do not call my child stupid, lazy, spoiled, selectively deaf, a brat, and more. My child has a neurological impairment which can affect processing skills, focusing, expressive or receptive speech, and internal control mechanisms, i.e. “losing it”. There is an old phrase, “We become what we hear.” The self-fulfilling prophecy is alive and well. My child tries hard to learn, control his behavior, socialize, etc. Please attempt to tell him what is right with him, not only what is wrong. Thank you for being a role model for my child. Children become what children see.
- Thou shall accept me and my family for who we are. My child may not appear to have challenges on the exterior. Appearances can be deceiving. I can equate this with a cast. If an individual is wearing a cast, we know they have a broken arm. Children with autism often appear the same as all other children. When you deal with my child, please remember that his emotional age is roughly four years behind his chronological age. Keep that in mind when creating expectations for him. My child cannot be fixed. He can be smothered with acceptance. His Asperger’s has created the young man that we have grown to love and admire. We would not change him for anything. He and I both need society’s acceptance.
- Thou shall not assume my child is being defiant. My child’s difficulties with receptive language can mimic defiance. When directions are not broken down into literal simple steps, he may appear to be ignoring you. He is not being defiant. He did not understand your directions. Tell him to pick up the books in the classroom, put them on the bookshelf, then sit down. This will most often result in compliance. Do not just say “put the books away.” He most likely will not know which books, where, when, or how. Be patient, as he really wants to please you.
- Thou shall tell parents of autistic kids what they do well. We struggle with our child’s special needs. We attempt to carve out time with our other children so they do not feel left out, carve out time for our spouse, attempt to create a copacetic environment for our families, love and accept unconditionally, and more. We parents are occasionally insecure regarding our parenting skills. We are not immune to the glaring disapproving eyes, and mumbles of disapproval regarding our parenting style of our special needs kids. We need support and understanding from you as we feel helpless when we cannot help our child during a meltdown or other challenging times. Please tell us what we do right occasionally and offer to lend a hand. It means the world to a parent of a special needs child to receive a compliment regarding them or their child when the parent feels like giving up hope.
- Last but not least, thou shall remember that we are all on this earth to make a contribution to society. Children on the spectrum make contributions as well. You just have to look a little deeper. For me, my son has taught me to be more patient, humbled me, taught me to look at what is good now and not worry about what may not happen 10 years down the road. I do not take things for granted because of my experiences. My husband and I learned the meaning of teamwork. Most of all, my son has taught me to never underestimate what strides he will make in our world. It may be on his timeframe and not mine. We are climbing to the peak of the mountain, with occasional slips, but climbing higher every day nonetheless.
Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE spent years as a school age coordinator, blogger and author, and has 25 years’ experience within the human services and education fields. She has had special needs articles published in several magazines. She is certified by the Department of Early Childhood Education as a lead preschool teacher, an infant and toddler teacher, and site coordinator qualified to manage school age programs. Mari Nosal received her Master’s in Educational Foundations in 2009. She adores working with children and educators within the classroom. She has presented to The Children’s Workshop team and shared her knowledge, experience, and insights with our staff. Mari offers tips on curriculum development and behavior modification within the classroom and through in-services. She is certified in Community Crisis Intervention by the Community Crisis Intervention Team of Bristol County. As a parent of an adult son with Asperger’s, she shows others how it is possible to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.