ASD, SPD, PDD and other acronyms may look the same in a word but there ends the similarity. Every child is different; acronyms, as I fondly call them, are often dubbed the invisible disability. Every time I have the opportunity to talk with another parent who has a child that is on or hanging around the Spectrum or experiencing other issues we share the same dilemma: defending the diagnosis. Whether it’s from a well meaning friend trying to be positive (“well she looks normal”), a skeptical family member (“it seems like everyone has (insert applicable disorder here) these days”) or complete strangers, ever the parenting experts of children they know nothing about (“the kid just needs a good spanking”).
I have lost track of the hours I have spent educating people on autism and sensory processing disorder. I leave various functions and play dates exhausted, not just from fun or running after my little guy but from expending large amounts of emotional energy trying to get people to understand. And one day it dawned on me, it isn’t my responsibility to educate everyone. Yes, I want to raise awareness but you cannot educate someone who doesn’t really want an answer. Some people just want to challenge what you know. My favorite is when someone asks me “are you sure he’s autistic”? I often quell the urge to issue a snotty reply that is somewhere along the lines of “nope, we just like the attention”. Then I have to resist the urge to go into detailed lists of doctors, developmental psychologists and various occupational therapists that Buddy sees on a weekly basis or the first, second and third opinions that we have sought out to be extra certain. You see, if our children had a condition that were more visible no one would have the audacity or gall to make assumptions and ask such invasive questions. Now, I am not saying that our close friends and family shouldn’t ask questions to try and understand but we all have that sense of whether or not a question is asked so that the person can be more informed because they truly care or if it’s simply to pose a veiled challenge.
When I was pregnant I read a few articles about what to do when someone asks invasive and personal questions in regards to religious upbringing of the child, breastfeeding or other personal decisions. There were also tactful and funny ways to avoid the good old unwanted belly pats from little old ladies in elevators. It dawned on me that some of these witty answers and reactions could be used the same way in regards to questions about our little ones.
Read on for a chuckle and feel free to comment with your own suggestions.
Situation 1) You are at a family function where everyone is already aware of your son or daughters diagnosis. Relative X corners you in the living room to grill you on why the child is in therapy when “he seems fine”.
Option 1) Simply reply that although you appreciate the concern, your family is taking a break from (insert proper diagnosis here) today and walk away.
Option 2) A simple “he/she is doing well thanks” will suffice.
Option 3) Turn the tables. “He is doing well, thanks so much. I noticed you weren’t sitting much, do you think you may have hemorrhoids”? Okay, I have to admit it’s extreme but sometimes you just gotta go there.
Situation 2) You are in public and Other Parent decides to comment on your child’s seemingly out of control behavior.
Option 1) Make some contact cards that say something to the effect of the following:
You have just met a child with Autism
To educate yourself please visit:
(Insert therapist website, autismspeaks.org or other desired information)
This puts the focus back on other parent who now more than likely feels stupid for being so insensitive.
Option 2) Ignore it. 9 times out of 10 it just works better. Some people just like to hear themselves criticize someone else.
Bottom line is this; it isn’t up to you to dedicate all of your precious energy trying to educate people who just don’t want to understand. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism for a grandparent who just hasn’t come to terms with it. Maybe it’s a slap in the face to another mom than can’t seem to get organized when you are able to juggle all the normal things that parenthood throws at you AND a special needs child all at once. It isn’t always malicious but it also isn’t our job to tackle each question like a straight A student fresh out of Diagnosis Defense 101. Feel free to take a break from the acronyms and close the floor to questions, you deserve it.