Autistic children deserve to be treated kindly, with the same amount of love you would give to a non-autistic child. They’re children. Here are things to not do with an autistic child.
What NOT to do with an autistic child
1. Don’t give complicated tasks.
Be specific, direct and concrete about what you want them to do.
Instead of saying, The trash is full, say, Please take out the trash. Don’t ask if they want to take out the trash, because they will tell you no. They don’t want to, but it doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyway.
Don’t speak to them like a toddler, just speak to them like a person. Speak clearly, and mean precisely what you’re saying. Don’t swim around your task, expecting them to know what you mean.
They don’t know what you mean, you’re not saying what you mean. They’re autistic — not mind readers.
2. Don’t suddenly change their routine.
Sudden routine changes lead to autism meltdowns and shutdowns. If they start yelling after a sudden routine change, this is a meltdown — not a tantrum.
Use visuals with their schedule and be ready to compromise. For example, you may have to leave a family gathering earlier than everyone else so your child can have their hour-long playtime before getting ready for bed. They still need that hour, not less than.
Do not force them to compromise their needs to meet your wants. Autistic people constantly compromise their needs to fulfill the wants of non-autistic people around them, at the expense of their own well-being. In turn, this leads to more meltdowns and shutdowns.
3. Don’t stop autistic children who stim.
Most stimming behavior is harmless. Stimming helps autistic people self-regulate and cope with the world around them, and stopping them has negative side effects.
- Are they hurting themselves?
- Are they hurting other people?*
- *Excludes annoyance. If you have a migraine from their stimming, find a solution yourself. You might need noise-cancelling headphones.
- Are they destroying property?*
- *Excludes destroying trivial things, like tissue paper.
If they answer is no, let them stim. Autistic people are not responsible for stopping their stims simply because other people feel uncomfortable or are negatively affected by it. They should have access to spaces where they can stim freely, without judgment and restraints.
4. Don’t leave them unattended too long.
Supervise or keep a line of sight so they’re not completely on their own. You don’t need to watch them like a prison guard, but you do need to ensure they’re not about to wrap electrical cords around their hands or drop a pickle jar half their size on their big toe.
Let them play in the living room a little bit, as long as they clean up their toys at the end of the day, if you spend most of your time there.
As autistic children grow older, they will want more independence and to not be in your presence so much. Do not take their doors — they need their privacy. Don’t put cameras in their room.
Let autistic people guide you when it comes to how much supervision to give them.
5. Don’t use one learning technique.
Autistic people learn better with multi-sensory lessons that allow them to see, feel, smell and explore. If you homeschool, consider taking them to a farm to teach them about animals. Put as many senses to words as you can.
Read books, print activities that involve cut-outs and glue (or Velcro), use scented markers — mix up your learning techniques.
6. Don’t try to discipline or have difficult conversations when they’re struggling.
Respect their autonomy (their agency). Allow them to reset, to self-regulate and enter a safe space of comfort again.
When they’re calm, discuss their behavior and work together to find coping techniques they can turn to next time.
7. Don’t force autistic children to eat food they dislike, reward them for finishing their plate, or punish them with food.
Respect your autistic child’s autonomy and create healthy relationships with food. Letting children play with their food or eat it in their own way, even if it’s not socially appropriate, allows them agency to eat in a way that best works for them.
Rewarding them for finished their plate will condition them, like dogs, to think they need to eat even when they’re not hungry — which can lead to illness, including stomach issues and discomfort.
Rewarding and/or punishing them with food causes autistic individuals to relate their worth to their food, i.e. They only love me when I eat this, even if it makes me sick, but I will do it for love.
You remove any ability for them to communicate with you about food. You plant a seed for an eating disorder.
8. Don’t post videos of your autistic kids in emotional distress.
Posting videos of autistic children having a meltdown or shutdown is not educational. It is a direct violation of their trust.
Think of a moment when you were most vulnerable — one that you would not want people to know happened to you, even in today’s culture of “It Happened to Me”.
Now imagine someone sharing that moment with the world, who has a lot of negative things to say about it. How do you feel about that person? Would you keep them in your life? Would you feel betrayed?
This is what you’re doing to your child. To everyone in the autistic community, you are posting it for clout and self-martyring behavior. To people outside the autistic community, you are an amazing parent with so much patience.
You are not an amazing parent with so much patience for posting videos of your autistic children in their most vulnerable moments. You are acting selfishly, narrating the autistic experience from your platform of non-autistic privilege, and directly contributing harmful stereotypes to the world your autistic child will grow up into.
They may one day see that video, or even be recognized as having been in that video. To dismiss the possibility due to the disabilities of your child is to not even give them a chance to live life fully.
Autistic people are allowed to post videos of themselves experiencing autism meltdowns and shutdowns, because we are posting them ourselves.
Treating autistic children with love and respect means autonomy and agency is a given. They are individual human beings who deserve a say in their life as much as non-autistic people have.