5 Things Autism Parents Wish They Would Have Known

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A while ago, we at The Autism Site shared with you five common mistakes autism parents make, as well as how to avoid them. But we only managed to scratch the surface of the things that autism parents, in retrospect, wish they would have known at the beginning of their journey or would have done differently.

Thanks to the way society generally puts neurotypicality on a pedestal as “the golden standard,” as well as our world’s fear of and lack of acceptance of differences, there are plenty of traps parents of a newly diagnosed child fall into. So here are some other mistakes parents have made, as well as how to avoid them.

Adobe Stock/kmiragaya

Adobe Stock/kmiragaya

5. Comparing Child’s Development to That of Other Kids

Autism is a developmental disorder, meaning that autistic individuals’ development tends to lag behind those of their peers. For example, they may have delayed speech, and they may not be fully toilet trained until a later age…if ever. Sometimes parents may constantly compare their child’s developmental trajectory to that of a neurotypical or other autistic child in the interest of gauging where their child is at compared to others.

What’s the Problem?

You’re going to drive yourself absolutely nuts by getting too hung up on this. Your child is not neurotypical, and they will not have a typical developmental trajectory. Comparing your child to other autistic kids doesn’t help, either, because every single one of them is different.

What’s the Solution?

Try to relax and recognize that your child will meet their milestones when they are ready. Easier said than done, but continually urging yourself to let it go can take some stress off your shoulders.

4. Worrying About Age-Appropriate Interests

Your child may very well have some “age-inappropriate” interests—in other words, they may continue to like things that their neurotypical peers outgrew years ago. Some parents worry about this, feeling uncomfortable by the fact that their teenager is enraptured by Sesame Street and fearing that it further differentiates them from their peers. So-called “experts” will also encourage extinguishing these interests, instead leading the child toward those which are more developmentally appropriate.

Adobe Stock/Monkey Business

Adobe Stock/Monkey Business

What’s the Problem?

Imagine if someone took away your favorite thing simply because “You’re not supposed to like it.” Needless to say, that would be completely unfair and very upsetting! If the interest makes the person happy and it’s not causing them harm, then they should be able to engage in that thing.

What’s the Solution?

Let your child have their fun, even if the things they like aren’t technically geared toward their own age group. If it makes them happy, isn’t that what matters most? Absolutely feel free to introduce them to new things and new hobbies—in fact, please do—but also let them have this thing that they love.

Of course, some parents may worry about their teenager being bullied for liking things their peers have already outgrown. That’s a legitimate concern, unfortunately. If that is your situation, check out our full article covering the issue of age-appropriate interests here.

3. Not Presuming Competence

In the most basic of terms, presuming competence means assuming your child can do something rather than can’t. It’s believing that your child has the capacity to learn, understand, and accomplish things when given the right supports. Unfortunately, however, due to the fact that autistic people’s intelligence has been severely underestimated—new research is teaching us this—sometimes parents set the bar ridiculously low, believing their child “can’t.”

Adobe Stock/Daria Filiminova

Adobe Stock/Daria Filiminova

What’s the Problem?

Assuming a child is incapable not only insults their intelligence but also sets them up for failure. Like I said in another post: set the bar low, and that’s all you can possibly expect of your child. But if you have higher expectations, there’s no telling what your child could accomplish!

What’s the Solution?

In a nutshell, presume competence. Talk to them like they’re a normal person. Teach them and expose them to all sorts of things. When they are present, never talk about them as if they are not in the room. In essence, believe your child can rather than can’t, even if you don’t see any evidence that they can. They may very well surprise you with what they are able to do!

2. Overloading Schedules with Therapy

In their rush to help their child achieve the best possible outcomes, sometimes parents will go overboard with therapy, and it’s understandable as to why this is: in their rush to help their child before the “developmental window” closes, they may do everything they can to ensure the best possible outcome—including overloading schedules with therapy.

What’s the Problem?

Don’t get me wrong: therapy and early intervention is important. However, there’s only so much therapy your child can take…and only so much your schedule and budget can handle.

What’s the Solution?

Everything in moderation. Choose just a few evidence-based interventions that you think would be most helpful to your child, based on their specific needs. It’ll take some thought and deliberation, but it’s well worth it.

1. Not Letting Your Kid Just Be a Kid

Adobe Stock/JenkoAtaman

Adobe Stock/JenkoAtaman

Along the same vein…therapy tends to be a very big part of an autistic child’s life, and even when a child is not engaging in therapy, parents may insist on making all other activities “teachable moments” for their kids.

What’s the Problem?

Your kid is just that—a kid. Can you imagine not being able to have much of a childhood because it’s entirely consumed by work, work, work? Childhood is such a short period of time, and while therapy is important, your little one deserves to be able to enjoy these precious years!

What’s the Solution?

Remember that not every moment has to be—nor should be—a teachable moment. Your child also deserves to have fun and have free time to spend in the way they would like, whether that involves stimming, lining up objects, engaging in their interests, or doing anything else they enjoy.

Check out the next page to learn about other mistakes.

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.
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