Parents with an autistic child have likely sought support online. The support can come in many forms, such as guides for raising their child, how to get a diagnosis, support in school and online groups for sharing tips and stories.
But it’s imperative to tread carefully with that last option, and here’s why.
First of all, autism is a spectrum for a reason. One size isn’t going to fit all, and one parent’s solution to an issue may not work in your case or worse, exacerbate the situation. Parents of autistic children can help, but they’re not experts.
Symptoms of autism include avoiding eye contact, a lack of verbal communication, repetitive behaviors or interests and strictly following established routines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They can even include preferring to walk on one’s toes, according to the Autism Research Institute.
I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder during my first few years of elementary school, but my diagnosis in particular was called Asperger’s back then. As a kid, I would walk around on my toes and frequently grow upset over changes in my schedule. I still have difficulty with eye contact today, but I was never nonverbal. It’s different for everyone.
The term “Asperger’s” led many to cast it off as mild autism, but there’s no meter or test for severity — it’s all different. But be careful to not say “Asperger’s” because it’s no longer correct and its namesake, Hans Asperger, worked with Nazis to commit horrific crimes.
Therefore, it’s perfectly natural to worry for one’s child in the event of a diagnosis. Any thoughtful, caring parent would. The next step in the process is seeking additional help for that child because they’ll usually need it.
Parents should turn to a doctor or expert in the field — someone who has experience with multiple autistic children and knows how to work with them. Autistic adults can offer advice, but that too can only go so far.
A quick Facebook search of the term “autism support groups” yields a myriad of options including groups for autistic individuals themselves, awareness groups, advocacy groups and groups specifically for parents of autistic children.
To be completely fair, there are many caretakers in these groups doing things the right way such as seeking out advice from fellow parents of autistic children and autistic adults. Other best practices include sharing confidential stories, good resources or ways to keep children safe from bullying and other forms of abuse.
But unfortunately, this isn’t the case for every parent in these groups. Some occasionally use these spaces to vent about their child or share how hard raising them is without including any of the good parts. Others even post pictures or information that probably shouldn’t be shared.
We are children, not a struggle or burden. Raising an autistic child isn’t some badge of honor — it’s called being a parent. We didn’t sign up to have autism just as much as parents didn’t sign up to raise an autistic child. Parents should think about the short and long term effects of their posts.
In the short term, parents may obtain some advice or sympathetic comments. But in the long term, future classmates may find the posts and use them as ammunition to bully those children or, arguably worse, the child may see the posts themselves.
Should parents be proud of those words? How would they explain why they saw raising an autistic child as a burden or why they posted personal information without the child’s consent?
Seeking out or sharing advice is understandable and the smart thing to do when you have an autistic child. Parents just need to make sure that’s all they’re doing.
Luke Christopher Norton (he/him) is a senior studying journalism. He hopes to be a beat writer for a Power Five athletics program.