It happens to almost every parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at some point. You are in a grocery store, at the park, or a restaurant. Your child with ASD is not having a great day. Maybe he’s tantruming; maybe she’s flapping incessantly. Your child is drawing the attention of strangers and some one decides to give you some “well-intentioned” advice.” “If you would only discipline him.” “If you didn’t spoil her so much.” Or maybe the person just gives you “the look.”
What are your options? Yes, you can ignore it. Sometimes this is the best option. Focus on your child and just get out of there. But sometimes you just can’t hold your tongue – or at least you don’t want to. Screaming probably won’t do any good. If you could only find the perfect come-back, something that would educate the uninformed, inexperienced, and ignorant.
You could tell the person that your child has ASD. You could tell them that the bright lights, noises, crowds, etc. upset your child and he or she has a hard time expressing the discomfort other than by tantruming. But this isn’t always easy to do when you need to devote your attention to your child and make sure he or she is safe. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable verbally engaging the stranger. Maybe you don’t like conflict or maybe you don’t want to mention your child’s diagnosis or difficulties in front of him or her.
In these situations you may find it helpful to have cards at the ready to hand out. You can make your own – something like:
My child has autism. I’m not looking for your sympathy – just some patience.
Or if you want to turn it into more of an educational opportunity, consider including on the card information about what ASD is. Do a web search for “autism awareness cards” for some examples. For example, the Autism Society of America has published cards that you can use, along with a website address where people can learn more about autism.
Or you can do what some more brazen parents do. Dress your child in a t-shirt like: “I have autism. What’s your excuse?” Definitely a conversation starter.