Tips for Parents of Autistic Children (I won’t be giving)

From my small experience of meeting parents of autistic children at events, I gather that some people want tips from an “out” autistic adult. Handy takeaway hints. How do you raise an autistic child? How do you live well as an autistic adult? Part of me wants to respond “Well, it depends on your world view- to take tips from me then you might have to accept some aspects of my world view which might not chime with yours. I tend towards openness, recognition that people can and do develop at different speeds and in different directions, a belief that different styles of thinking and being are important, a recognition that some people need more support than others to live their lives but are still valuable members of society, a belief that humanity is just one part of a rich, interconnected world of beings and things and a faith in the value of kindness, acceptance and unconditional positive regard for others and their experiences. 

Also, a recognition that private troubles are always entwined with public issues and that a world which ceaselessly pursues economic growth at the cost of human and ecological wellbeing is not one to be welcomed, indeed sometimes to be resisted often by people working together to uphold common values of kindness, fairness and love either; by changing society or finding alternative ways to do things. Although I’ve fought my own battles for acceptance, I haven’t fought them as a parent, which involves being far more subject to value systems I may not share than I usually have to experience as an adult. I was trying to think how I might then give tips to the parent of an autistic child, or to an autistic person who just didn’t share these aspects of my values. Try to do it from closer to their position. I realised it would not go well…

  1. Agree to all demands that they should appear the same as “everybody else”.
  2. To this end, pursue therapies and treatments which have not been adapted for autistic people
  3. Or pursue therapies and treatments which are part of a business model aiming to make money from the desire of the parents of autistic child to have behaviours which are as normal as possible.
  4. Interpret signs of distress as defiance, rather than as communication about something in their environment which is upsetting and overloading them and ignore it, or stop them showing signs of distress. 
  5. Do not attend to different ways of communicating with your child- make them communicate only your way. Do not worry too much about what’s going on inside their mind and heart, why would you need to know about that?
  6. Force them to spend time in environments they say they find difficult- noisy, bright places for example. Make them eat foods they don’t like.
  7. Train them in making eye contact with people even if they say it hurts or makes it harder for them to think.
  8. Control their body movements so that they look the same as other people- do not allow them to display the self-stimulating behaviours that would allow them to regulate their own bodily input. Use mockery as a way to make sure your disapproval is reinforced.  
  9. Don’t try to find out why they do certain things. Best just to assume it’s either why you would do them or why most people do them.
  10. Don’t bother enlightening them about the reasons for the social rules that many people follow even if they express bafflement. Ignore “Why?” questions and say “Just because”.
  11. Be aware that research shows this eventually will lead to increased mental health problems and distress and suicide rates- make sure any further necessary therapeutic interventions as a result are not autism-adapted. 
  12. Do not be guided in the things they find interesting, that spark their joy or passion. Force them away from learning about those things. Guide them towards work you would like them to do. Ignore any ideas they have about pursuing careers you don’t know anything about, or don’t think will make sufficient money, or approve of. 
  13. Remind them that the diagnostic criteria show they lack the same feelings and abilities as other people, so that they will feel motivated to change themselves. 
  14. Discourage them from connecting with other autistic people; why would they want to be with other people like them? That’s not how most people in the world are. 
  15. Tell other people you are grieving for the normal child you should have had- let your child know this is how you feel. Do not seek counselling for any of your complicated feelings, that would be a weakness. 
  16. Find a school that shares your values about how children should appear to be just like everyone else.
  17. If they say they’re happy spending time on their own, disbelieve them and force them to spend social time with you or other children. If this tires them out, tell them they are “lazy”. 
  18. Either do not let them develop any independence because you believe they’re so fragile they will not cope with failure or risk, or do not give them any support whilst they try out new things because they have to learn that nobody will help them. Do not attempt a balance of support and scaffolding.

No, I’m not sure I’d be the right person to be able to give those “tips”…