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Autism Sensitivity: What Not to Say to a Parent with an Autistic Child

Autism sensitivity is something to bear in mind when interacting with parents of autistic children. So it is crucial to choose our words carefully. Sensitivity and understanding can go a long way in supporting these families. In this blog post, we will explore some common phrases to avoid when speaking to a parent with an autistic child and alternative approaches that promote empathy and inclusivity.

Autism Sensitivity Tip 1: “Your child doesn’t look autistic.”

While it may be well-intentioned, this statement undermines the diverse nature of autism. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and individuals with autism can present themselves in various ways. Instead, focus on acknowledging the child’s unique strengths and abilities, fostering a positive conversation that celebrates their individuality.

Autism Sensitivity Tip 2: “Have you tried disciplining your child?”

Autism is not a behavioral issue to be solved through discipline alone. It is a neurological condition that affects social interaction, communication, and sensory processing. Instead, ask open-ended questions about the strategies the parent has found helpful in supporting their child’s development. This shows respect for their expertise and encourages a collaborative discussion.

Autism Sensitivity Tip 3: “I’m sorry.”

While it may seem like a polite response, saying “I’m sorry” can unintentionally convey pity or sympathy. Instead, express empathy by saying, “I can only imagine the unique challenges you face. How can I support you and your child?” This approach acknowledges the parent’s experiences while offering assistance and understanding.

Autism Sensitivity Tip 4: “Your child will grow out of it.”

Autism is a lifelong condition, and it is important to recognize and accept this reality. Instead, focus on the present and ask the parent about their child’s strengths and interests. You can foster a positive and inclusive conversation for people with autism that celebrates their progress and achievements by showing genuine interest in their child’s development.

Tip 5 “You must have done something to cause this.”

Blaming parents for their child’s autism is not only unfounded but also hurtful. Autism is a complex condition with genetic and environmental factors. Instead, offer support and ask the parent about the resources they have found helpful in navigating their child’s journey. This demonstrates empathy and encourages a discussion centered around finding solutions and support.

When engaging with parents of autistic children, it is essential to approach conversations with empathy, understanding, and respect. By avoiding these phrases and adopting a more inclusive and supportive approach, we can push for autism sensitivity. Together we can create a positive environment that fosters acceptance and empowers families on their unique journey with autism.

More information and resources

You can learn more about early signs of the spectrum disorder and how to understand what it will mean for you and your family here: