Fathers For Autism

I am a road-worn father of an amazing autistic daughter and NT son. I started this blog to provide information, a sounding board and a voice for fathers of autistic children.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

10 things to say to the 'Reluctant Parent' of an autistic child...

If you've ever heard the phrase "I didn't sign up for this..." or "my child isn't autistic", then you might know the 'Reluctant Parent' of an autistic child.  Frustrated, surly, and in denial, this person has yet to embrace the fact that autism is a real thing.

In no specific order, here is an incomplete list of things you can say to the 'Reluctant Parent' that might just make a difference:

1.  "Like it or not, you are the parent of a child.  This means that you are responsible for their safety, security, and over all well-being regardless of whether they are autistic or have any other challenge.  Denying your child your support because it is "difficult" or "not what you signed up for" is far more childish than any of the actions of your child.  Grow up, take responsibility, stop whining and start helping."

2.  "Autism can not be 'cured' with discipline.  Your child isn't out of control or being a brat.  Your child is overwhelmed, frustrated, insecure, or even scared.  Yelling at them or 'disciplining' them will only make it worse.  

Imagine, at your most frustrated moment, someone yelling in your face telling you that you're being a jerk...or hitting you...do you think that would make things better or worse?"

3.  "Getting a diagnosis of Autism isn't the end of the world.  In fact, it opens doors to services that might just help your child.  These services can include behavioral, physical and occupational therapy, additional support at school, and added attention to ensuring that your child hits anticipated developmental milestones.  

Please help me understand how this added support, regardless of diagnosis, is detrimental to your child?"

4.  "Autism is not contagious.  No, seriously, it's not.  Stop backing away as if you're going to catch something."

5.  "Your child can hear you.  Everything gets in.  Even if there is no indication of comprehension, every condescending remark, disparaging word, and backhanded comment is recorded and understood.   

Listening and responding are mutually exclusive concepts in an autism world.  The fact that your child didn't react, doesn't mean they didn't hear you."

6.  "You need to be more compelling than their world from them to want to join yours.  Sitting around, watching the game, going out to the bar, or hanging out with your friends is not going to make your child want to be 'present' in your world. 

Imagine being constantly surrounded by televisions, each on a different station.  All of them playing something you enjoy.  One of them is the real world.  Which would you choose? 

Try.  Make an effort.  If it doesn't work, try again or try something new, but don't stop trying.  Give your child a reason to want to choose you."

7.  "Be consistent.  Like any child, your child needs structure and a belief that certain actions will produce certain results.  Irregular behavior and volitile change will generally cause confusion, fear, and frustration.  This can often lead to meltdown or, as you might called it a 'tantrum' (we'll get to that).  

Before you judge the behavior of your child, examine whether there was a lack of structure and find ways to remedy this.  You may soon realize that the 'tantrums' decrease."

8.  "There is a HUGE difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.  Accept this.  

A tantrum is where a child is actively and knowingly crying/yelling/screaming to produce a desired result.  It is often manipulative and easily diverted by a cookie.  

A meltdown is usually associated with a sense of being overwhelmed, frustrated, or afraid.  Typically there is a trigger or reason for the excalated behavior which might not be initially apparent including loud sounds, chaotic environments, or abrupt change in schedule.  Meltdowns are not easily de-escalated and usually require some effort to discover the trigger to avoid it in the future.  Yup, I said 'effort'..."

9.  "Discard your ego.  Throw it away.  It's a poisonous, unhelpful barrier to your relationships and needs to be destroyed.

One of the first things we do as parents, even before our child is born, is to layer our egocentric preconceptions onto our child.  "MY child is going to be a Doctor/Athlete/Musician..."  

It's bullshit, completely unrealistic, and unfair.  

Your child is your child.  Plain and simple.  Layering on your preconceived ideas of who they should or could be prevents you from accepting them as they are.  It also indicates that you think your ego is more important than their own identity.     

Accept your child and embrace the person they present to you, not the imaginary person you created in your mind."

10.  "Your child wants to be loved, respected, appreciated, and valued.  As the parent, you are supposed to provide that.  You are supposed to be their champion against danger, their umbrella against the storm, and their safe place when it gets dark.  

You are also their example of what a parent is.  You represent their future ideals.  Your child looks to you to understand love, respect, and worth.  You are their first and most impactful mirror.

You get to choose what they see.  Be a worthy example."


  1. Quite honestly, I think this is way too harsh. You can say any of these things, but a parent in denial probably won't listen. Try a little kindness. It's much more likely to get through.

  2. I like all the points, except point 3. Sadly, that is not available in all countries. In my home country, Sweden, there is no help to get and no therapy to get.

  3. IMO, you were right on target with everything said! SOME parents need to step off of the pedestal of "Look at ME - aren't you impressed?", & focus on their job of giving their special-needs child the best upbringing possible!

  4. But, society says it's all about me! Every person who is a parent choose at some point to have that child. I try to be the kind of parent that I would want to have. No matter what your child ability/ disabilities are they still need the same things. Love, acceptance and direction. As the saying goes, suck it up buttercup!