My Children Want You to Know

My children are both diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I wrote this to address some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about autism, and to help their voices be heard.

My children want you to know that being of few words does not mean being of little intelligence.

My children want you to know that being socially awkward doesn’t mean they cannot be wonderful, kind, loving, and loyal friends.

My children want you to know that they may flap their arms, rock, hum, or spin because they need to, not because they are brats with little self-control who wish to irritate you.

My children want you to know that they are not “picky”, “wussy” or “incorrigible” because they cannot tolerate certain lights, sounds, fabrics, or foods. They experience the world quite differently than you do from a sensory standpoint, and they are doing their best to process and handle all of it. Think of having the volume turned up on every one of your senses at all times.

My children want you to know that most people have a “sensory gatekeeper” in their brain which filters out unnecessary sensory input. They do not have this feature. Imagine being overwhelmed by unnecessary sensory input from all directions all at once and having to manually sort it all, when you are a child, and being called a “brat” if you get frustrated.

My children want you to know that they do not lack self-control. They require ten times as much self-control as most children because their environment is more distracting and abrasive than you might be able to imagine.

My children want you to know that humiliation as a tactic to get them to behave more typically does not work, and will simply make them fearful, ashamed, and unwilling to trust people in the future.

My children want you to know that they interpret their world very literally, so they may not understand metaphor and figures of speech and interpret them as a literal statement. This does not mean they are stupid, it just means they think differently than you do.

My children want you to know that they are not rude or mean, they are just very honest about how they perceive the world and do not automatically filter their responses for the sake of politeness. This is not a choice, they simply think logically more than emotionally when evaluating their environment and ask questions about what they see, hear or experience. They do not wish to offend anyone. On the bright side, you will always know exactly where you stand with them and it is almost impossible for them to lie. Almost.

My children want you to know that there is a difference between a temper tantrum and a meltdown. While both may look extremely similar (to the point mom and dad might have trouble discerning the difference) the cause of each is quite different, and so is the solution. Discipline will not fix a meltdown. Unkind words about our “poor parenting” and telling us that a good spanking is in order will not yield a positive result. When an autistic child is experiencing a meltdown, they need the offending presence to be removed. This usually means moving to a quiet place, being held close (my son) or being given some space (my daughter) to be able to find equilibrium again. If my son has to hum while he walks and spin when he must stay in one place during a trip to a crowded mall, deal with it. Dealing with it is exactly what he is doing.

My children want you to know that they are not sad because they do not experience the world in the way you do. Their experience is all they know and they find it quite normal. What they struggle with is when people question and criticize their view of the world and say that it is defective or wrong. How would you like it if someone told you you were wrong for the way you experienced the world around you, or tried to force you to see it and react to it their way?

My children have autism. They also have hopes, dreams, goals, talents, creativity, love, kindness, compassion, a sense of humor, intelligence, interests, personalities, wishes, and people who love them very much for exactly who they are. My children want you to know that they are valuable, lovable, precious individuals who have so much to offer this world, if only you will see them for who they are.