Dealing with autism is not only challenging for those who have been diagnosed, but for their family members as well. Parenting can be especially tricky as the typical methods and tactics might not work. Reddit user MissMess1, a mother of a child newly diagnosed with autism, recently asked her online community for advice on how to ensure that her son knows that he is loved, valued, and never feels broken. Here are some of the responses she received.
[Editor’s note: Some responses have been edited for spelling, grammar, and/or length.]
12. Tell Them You Love Them
“Actually verbally state you love them. And if your son is able to handle physical contact hugs can be nice.” — Reddit user M-Christina
11. Support Their Interests
“Find out what your child’s interests are and 1. encourage/support them in it and 2. be a teammate if you can or find them like-minded teammates if not. That’s not really any different from a NT [neurotypical] child – but note that our interests can run much deeper.
“Support that and you’ll not only prove to your son that he’s not broken, he may learn he can do exceptional things.” — Reddit user AutdotDad
10. Give Them Structure
“They [parents] didn’t ensure I had a goal and rigid structure. I constantly battled to keep focus at school (ADHD as well), and although I graduated with decent marks, it wasn’t what I could have achieved. My parents could have helped push me in the right direction, but they just let me do what I wanted which wasn’t for the best. I also struggled to make decisions that weren’t based entirely on facts — so I was not the best at securing goals for the future.” — Reddit user astro_za
9. Ask Them How They View the World
“I grew up with undiagnosed SPD [sensory processing disorder], and because of that always felt different and misunderstood. My frustration and discomfort [were] often taken as anger, and I had trouble communicating my feelings. Just having someone take the time to ask about how you experience the world can really make a difference. If your son also has trouble verbally communicating and expressing his feelings, maybe try watching some videos on YouTube and ask him which ones he relates to.” — Reddit user borntohula37
8. Encourage Open Dialogue
“Also try to have an open dialogue with your son about what he doesn’t like and what he does like. I hated hugging people at family reunions, and hugging in general. I don’t like light touch. I hate wooden spoons (my mom would ask me to stir the chocolate pudding and she’d always use a wooden spoon). I never thought to tell her I didn’t want to because I don’t like touching wood (it’s coarse), but I had no idea why I got an unpleasant shiver up my spine when I touched it. I also had no idea why I was upset in junior high. After puberty, I just remember whenever my dad asked me anything like, ‘Why I didn’t want to X’ (which was basically all he said to me, cause he’s an aspie and workaholic), I just started crying cause he scared me and I couldn’t verbalize why. And I actually said one time ‘I don’t know!’ when he asked why I cry when he’s just asking me a question. It’s complicated stuff!” — Reddit user Scythe42
7. Assume the Best
“Don’t assume he won’t achieve things. Doctors may tell you, ‘He won’t do x,’ but everyone continues to grow and develop throughout life.
“I wasn’t diagnosed until 14, but my diagnosis never impacted on my parent’s thoughts about what I would or wouldn’t achieve. Overall I think I’ve ended up needing moderately more support than they anticipated (at this specific point in my life, not necessarily forever!).
“Tell him you love him, educate him about the autism spectrum, don’t stop him stimming or exploring his special interests.” — Reddit user freyaelise92
6. Have a Sense of Humor
“Now, as an adult, my mum pokes gentle fun of me with phrases like, ‘Dear, your spectrum is showing!’ when I’m doing/saying something that really brings out the autism. I actually like that. Having some humour about it and treating it as no-big-deal rather than a major thing is kind of nice. Obviously that doesn’t work with a toddler. But I’m just suggesting that you do treat it light-heartedly as he grows up rather than always trying to be heartwarming and serious.” — Reddit user miss-robot
5. Help Them Connect with Others Who Have Autism
“Other people have given you good advice already, but I’d add: help him connect with other autistic kids. Might not be as important now, but as kids get older, they start to realize they’re different, and it can be really isolating. Being around other autistic people helps a lot.” — Reddit user cakeisatruth
4. Let Go of Your Expectations of Parenthood
“Let go of your expectation of what parenthood would be. A lot of it will be the same but a lot will be different and you might not know which is which until afterwards. Once I let go of my pressure-filled expectations, I was able to focus on giving him what he needed when he needed it and loving it every day.” — Reddit user sregan99, a “parent of a great 14-year-old on the spectrum.”
3. Teach Them How to Defend Against Sensory Stimuli
“What my ma did and for that I will be forever grateful is that I never, ever, ever had to have my cheeks pinched if I didn’t want to, sit on any laps if I didn’t want to, or be hugged/patted if I didn’t want to. Bodily autonomy from hour zero!
“Considering just how badly upsetting a ‘wrong’ hug can be for me (my evening is gone and I might not sleep at all), having early practice at least at refusing physical contact was good.
“Furthering that, I wish I had better patterns for communicating how I do want to be hugged – I missed out on so much hugging because of that growing up, but I’m catching up now.
“In short: If your son has sensory issues, teach him how to defend himself against unwanted stimuli, enjoy sensory seeking behaviour with him, and make sure he doesn’t grow up thinking he has to tough really, really bad things out just because they’re not uncomfortable for other people.” — Reddit user nadeshdara
2. Embrace Their Coping Mechanisms
“My wife is Autistic and a couple years ago I did something that just blew her mind in the most amazing way.
“She was stressed and ‘stimming’ by jumping and flapping her arms, and I just joined in. Not mocking her, just making it something fun. Nothing else I’ve done has seen such an amazing response, and it’s something she’d never experienced, because watching an Autistic person stimming is extremely uncomfortable for most people.
“Embrace your child’s coping mechanisms. Don’t suppress them as socially unacceptable. Suppressing those coping mechanisms is the best way to end up with full-blown meltdowns and leave the child feeling permanently broken.” — Reddit user smiller171.
1. Educate Them on Austism
“Educate him on what being autistic means. If he knows now, normalize it. If he doesn’t, teach him as he gets older. Whatever you do, make sure he knows not only what it is, but that it isn’t a bad thing.
“My biggest issue, as someone who was assessed a bit later at 9 or 10, was that I didn’t know what autism meant. I just knew that it wasn’t a good thing and scary. The result was that I stopped cooperating for the final follow-up to confirm that it was PDDNOS [pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified] and not Asperger’s, and never got diagnosed. I’d run away screaming, ‘I’m not crazy!’
“If you can keep him from feeling that bad about his being autistic, you’ve done awesome. I’m still struggling to come to terms with it as a 27-year-old woman. It’s something that I sometimes try to hide or ignore, and honestly feel ashamed of, but my therapist/psych has helped me to not run away from it.” — Reddit user EmeraldPen
Even though parenting a child with autism can pose its own difficulties, it’s well worth the effort to help that child feel capable and important and loved. Continue to encourage your child’s interests and growth while offering your support, and — like these Reddit users suggest — you’ll be helping your child develop into their own best selves.Whizzco