Disabilities Are Not Always Visible; But Your Reactions To Them Always Are

A child who looks perfectly normal on the outside may well have hidden disabilities that only become
apparent at certain times. This is the case with children on the autism spectrum, many of whom only
display their condition in public view when they inevitably undergo a meltdown. However, because they
look normal, bystanders often perceive the child as lacking in discipline, and cast a judging eye towards
their parents in the misconception that they have failed in their parenting duties. As you can imagine,
critical judgment is the last thing these parents need.
When you see a parent trying their best to handle their autistic child, how you respond to them can
make all the difference in their day. For example, when you’re in a conversation with a parent and the
latter informs you that their child is autistic, try not to draw attention to how normal the child looks;
that is questioning the parent’s awareness of their child’s condition, and they are not likely to appreciate
it.
Don’t fall into the Rain Man trap either; not all autistic children have special talents, and getting this
question for the umpteenth time gets old to these parents. Instead, if you would like to know more
about autism, consider asking the parent to explain more about the condition. They might just be happy
to oblige.
Children on the autism spectrum also tend to display repetitive movements such as hand-flapping or
pacing. This is generally the child attempting self-stimulation or “stimming”, and is usually their attempt
to keep calm in the face of an overwhelming experience. Pointing it out as an unusual behavior isn’t
helpful, as anyone trying to keep the child from stimming would only cause more problems; instead,
think about asking why exactly the child is performing such an action.
Lastly, it is inevitable that autistic children suffer meltdowns in public from time to time, and this is not
always something in the parent’s control. Therefore, suggesting that the child just needs disciplinary
action is not helpful, and will only make the parent feel worse about themselves. Consider simply asking
if there is anything you can do to help instead.
Approach the topic of autism with an open mind and willingness to learn, and you can help to make the
parents’ day brighter. And who knows, you might learn something you never knew before about the
autism spectrum!

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