“Have you tried to educate him?”: What do they say to parents of children with autism


Raising a child with disabilities is not easy without tactless and shameless comments, questions and advice from the outside. But, alas, there is no escape from them. How does a mother of a child with autism respond to comments? And how can we help if we witness a similar situation? The opinion of psychologists.

“The main thing is to develop your own coping strategy”

Maria Sisneva, clinical psychologist (Moscow)

Maria Sisneva

Why do people even consider it possible to give advice and speak out to other people’s children? The reasons for this behavior can be different: lack of politeness and delicacy, ignorance, the desire to “do good” and “do good”, passive aggression, fear at the sight of a person unlike them. But the reasons are not so important here. The main thing is to learn how to protect yourself and your child, your boundaries.

In psychology, there is the concept of “coping style” or “coping strategy” – a typical way of coping with something. Someone can rudely siege an impudent person, and someone himself experiences after that. Someone uses humor, may paradoxically or caustically laugh it off, send off the interlocutor with his advice. And someone completely ignores the comments. There are also those who are trying to reach out to the interlocutor, explain to him that he is wrong.

It’s best to look for your own individual coping style. The statements below are a training ground. Write under each of them what you would answer and how you would behave with the interlocutor. Analyze what style of behavior is comfortable for you. And, most importantly, remember: yes, these people hurt you, but in reality they do not affect your life in any way. But you have the right to give them back – perhaps the next time in a similar situation, they will remain silent.

“There are children who are much worse.” – “There are people who do not comment on other people’s children”

Here are the answers to some of the most common sayings in my coping style.

  • “Did someone jinx him, they took him to his grandmother?” “If she looks like you, I’m afraid he’ll get worse.”
  • “Have you done surgery on his head?” “I’d rather do heart surgery to rude and tactless people. Do you think it will help? “
  • “It’s because his parents are alcoholics.” “You have a minute to think and apologize.”
  • “Is he not talking because he is communicating telepathically?” – “Yes! And you know what he just thought of you? You can’t hear, but we have telepathy. “
  • “When he grows up, he will pester everyone, you will have to castrate him.” – “And you will need to read the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … Although start at least with a book about basic rules of politeness.”
  • “I can’t imagine how you can handle it, it’s awful …” – “It’s unpleasant for me when you say that. I love my child. Maybe I can tell you how best to support me? “
  • “Patience to you!” “It might end right now.”
  • “You know, there are children who are much worse.” “You know, there are people who don’t comment on other people’s children.”
  • “Have you tried to educate him?” “I’ll start right after you try to stop giving unsolicited advice.”
  • “Did your husband leave you?” – “And you?”

Experiments show that a person feels more confident if he is not alone

Separately, it should be said about those cases when such remarks are expressed not by the saleswoman in the store, but by someone close. Here you need a frank conversation, but without getting personal. Do not criticize the person, but his behavior. Say that his or her words were unpleasant to you (you can explain why). Tell me how you can support you. Or maybe you will be more comfortable if he refrains from commenting at all. If so, this should be clearly indicated.

How can you help when you witness the mother of a child with autism being asked tactless questions or inappropriate remarks? Be sure to support! Two people are already a team. Many experiments show how much more confident a person feels and how much easier it is for him to fight back if he is not alone. Remember the scenes from westerns and action movies, when an ally suddenly appears next to a lone hero and they instantly defeat all the villains.

“The main thing is not to” connect “and not give the interlocutor a chance to hurt you”

Elena Vershkova, social philosopher, hypnotherapist (London)

Elena Vershkova

When I was shown a list of questions and lines with which strangers turn to mothers of children with autism, I thought it was a prank. I read it again and a wave of indignation swept over me. And this is probably the first reaction of many of us. However, different situations suggest different approaches to resolve them.

Let’s say shameless people on the street ask you, glancing at your child: “Is he a fool? Rain Man? ”,“ Will he stay that way for the rest of his life? ”,“ What talents does he have? ”,“ Well, have you already spoken? ”. All of these questions indicate that the person asking them does not allow or ignore distance between you.

As a rule, the purpose of such questions is to satisfy your idle curiosity, but something else is mixed in. “I’m curious, so I’m involved,” is almost like patting the shoulder or giving candy to a stranger. In the UK, where I live, this behavior is socially unacceptable, although this does not mean that no one behaves this way – in any multicultural place there is a possibility of meeting a variety of reactions – but society strongly condemns this and may even become the subject of legal proceedings.

In the post-Soviet space, such a “sympathetic reduction of the distance” is often perceived rather as a manifestation of openness and sincerity. The best reaction, in my opinion, will be distancing: it is worth understanding that the interlocutor is unconsciously trying to piss you off. Come up with a universal answer in advance, preferably as polite and cold as possible (for example, the following came to my mind: “The difficulty of some questions lies in the impossibility of giving a timely and comprehensive answer to them”). You can even write it down on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet or pocket.

The only remedy against “compassion” is complete disregard

If suddenly you are approached with inappropriate comments or questions, try to take 3-4 deep breaths into the diaphragm, focusing on the air that you inhale, and then exhale it just as slowly. Further – according to the circumstances: you can pronounce your universal answer, but most likely you will not need it – your calmness will increase the distance that your counterpart was trying to reduce. The feeling of the wholeness of your space will not be violated, the interlocutor will not be able to spoil your mood.

Another group of remarks is unsolicited advice: “Take him to a boarding school, give birth to a healthy one”, “You just need to spank him well and he will immediately become normal”, “You have to sit at home with such a child, not go shopping”, “I can’t imagine how this can be endured”.

When my daughter was three years old and she screamed heart-rendingly, lying in the aisle of the plane that landed at four in the morning, all the “compassionate” passengers around me gave me advice. I apologized, snapped back, got angry and felt embarrassed about my child’s behavior. But then I realized that the awkwardness should have been experienced by the people invading my space. I coped with the situation, despite the fact that it caused some inconvenience to others. Nothing catastrophic for the world happened.

The responses of the “compassionate” and “sympathetic” are usually motivated by a desire to suppress. Many older people are brought up according to the rules of repressive pedagogy, and they see a negative reaction as a way to resolve a problem or conflict. So the mother answers the call of an adult son not with sincere joy, but dry: “And why did you not call for so long?”

“I care,” the “advisers” often say in such cases, perceiving politeness and distance as indifference and coldness. In my opinion, the only remedy for this “compassion” is complete ignorance. It is important to learn to skip the spoken words by – imagine that they are addressed to someone else, you should not even listen to them. In such cases, you can include a special melody in your head. Try to come up with your own technique, the main thing is not to “connect” and not give the interlocutor a chance to hurt you.

The interlocutor is not talking about you, but about himself, about what he believes in at a given moment

I would call the last category of remarks explanatory: “It’s demons in him, you need to go to church”, “This is because his parents are drug addicts”, “Autism is now fashionable”, “God sends trials to those he loves most”, “This is your highest destiny “,” You need to film a negative scenario in sand therapy. “

Here everything flies in a heap – from cosmological explanations to the theory of a world conspiracy and the advice of healers. Despite the absurdity of many “explanations”, it is difficult to perceive them with humor, especially when they are taken by surprise. But everything falls into place if you understand that everything that happens is pure projection. The interlocutor is not talking about you, but about himself, about what he believes in this particular moment.

Imagine what a flat-earth proponent is talking to you, for example. Would you react to his words? Hardly. It’s the same here.

But what if you witnessed how tactless counselors besiege the mother of a child with ASD? Do I need to intercede or is it better to pass by? How to help, so as not to injure and accidentally make the mother and child even more painful or unpleasant?

In my opinion, there is no definite answer, but I would nevertheless offer to openly express support. The key is to let the parent of a child with autism understand that not the whole world is against him and that you can be counted on. At the same time, I would not enter into direct confrontation with a tactless interlocutor, realizing that often such a person is just waiting for this.

Fund “Exit” and the association “Autism-Regions” Thanks to Tatyana Golubovich, mother of Ivan (Minsk), and Ekaterina Zalomova, mother of Ivan (Novosibirsk), for a selection of statements addressed to mothers of children with autism.

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