If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with unsolicited comments and pieces of advice from total strangers. Just about every parent goes through this at some point, whether their child is autistic or neurotypical. So that’s something you can take comfort in: you’re far from alone.
But the question is, how do you respond to rude and ignorant comments from strangers who feel obliged to comment on your child or parenting ability? Here are some tips from experts and parents who have been there, done that.
9. Stay Calm
Your knee-jerk reaction may be to lash out. Resist this urge, as it could cause matters to escalate. Instead, take deep, slow breaths and gather yourself.
8. Ignore Them
Sometimes the best way you can respond to rude people is to ignore them altogether—especially if it’s clear they’re just being downright mean (e.g. “You’re a terrible parent.”). A judgmental stranger does not define you or your child; their careless comments are inconsequential. Walk away if necessary and focus on your child’s needs and that slow, deep breathing of yours.
7. Consider This as a Potential Opportunity for Education
While this may not always be the case, sometimes you can use situations like this as a springboard to educate people about autism. If you do, remember to stay calm and non-confrontational, and consider keeping the explanation short (you can always explain further if they want to know more). For example, if the stranger makes a remark about your child in the midst of a meltdown, reply, “S/he has autism and is doing his/her best.” Another great idea: make or buy a set of cards that you can hand out to people, briefly explaining autism.
6. Respond to Unsolicited Advice with “Thanks, I’ll Keep That in Mind!”
As inappropriate as unsolicited advice might be, it is often not made out of a place of malice; strangers may just be trying to be helpful. A great response? Smile and say “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind!” even if you have absolutely no intentions of doing so.
5. Use a Sense of Humor
You’ll want to be careful with this one; if you’re angry, you might come across as snarky. But some parents find that responding with wit or a sense of humor can be an effective and light-hearted way to deflect strangers’ rude comments and keep themselves composed. One mom, when asked why her son was so loud, laughed and said, “You’re lucky he isn’t using his outside voice!”
4. Highlight Child’s Strengths
People who make comments about your child’s behavior are only seeing your child for his or her disability. You, however, have the full picture of who your child is, and sharing that with the commenter can give them some of that insight, too. So when someone says something bad about your child, respond to them with something positive. For example, if someone says “Your child is so fidgety!” Respond with “Yeah, s/he has some trouble sitting still, but he’s an amazing soccer player!”
3. Establish Boundaries
Strangers have no right to get involved with your parenting duties, so don’t be afraid to politely ask them to back off by saying something like “I am her parent and would prefer to handle this myself, please.” And leave it at that.
2. Respond to Annoying Questions with Short and Sweet Answers
Lots of times when people know your child has autism, they’ll rattle off a list of “cures” or treatments they heard about from somewhere and ask if you’ve tried it. A simple, “Yes, we’ve considered it, thanks,” or “No, but I’ll look into it,” or even “I’m not comfortable talking about this” should suffice. And again, you don’t need to have any intentions of doing anything.
1. Talk to Your Child About the Incident
Kids are smart, and they’re often able to pick up on what the grownups around them are saying, thinking, or feeling about them. You may worry your child will overhear what people are saying and begin to internalize negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. And it’s a very legitimate fear.
To combat this, talk to your child after things have settled down and everyone is calm. Explain that some people may have questions or may not know about autism. Provide affirmation, assuring them it’s not their fault and that they are not bad. Highlight their strengths and positive qualities and celebrate them. It’s also a good idea to teach them how to respond to comments, too—and modeling a proper response is a good place to start!
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.