6 Ways to Avoid a Relationship with Your Autistic Child

Tea Party
Tea Party. Getty Images

Many parents-to-be have a picture in their minds of a beautiful little boy or girl asking for hugs and cuddles, inviting Mom and Dad to a pretend tea party, or asking "will you come play?" In fact, many parents not only expect but rely on their child to be the dreamer-up of ideas and the instigator of pretend play.

Kids with autism, though, while they may, in fact, have huge imaginations, are unlikely to take the social lead.

In fact, kids with autism are often more than happy to play alone, repeating their favorite activities over and over again, with no involvement from Mom, Dad, or anyone else.

What's more, kids with autism rarely imitate others. As a result, they rarely play the kinds of pretend games or sports that parents expect. The idea of imitating a parent cooking dinner may not occur to them. The concept of playing dress-up, or being "just like" Mom, Dad, sports figures, or superheroes may not enter their minds. They may not draw scenes from real life, or yearn to be Disney princes or princesses.

This confuses a lot of adults who, expecting a certain type of behavior, have a very tough time changing their expectations. All too often, parents and grandparents decide that they will never understand their child, and they quit trying. They don't mean to be hurtful or neglectful, but they have made up their minds that it is impossible to build a relationship.

So they don't.

Unfortunately for kids with autism, not getting involved is very easy. All you have to do is say one of these phrases, and the people around you will nod understandingly. The outcome: you will never build a relationship with your autistic child. Period.

Here are just a few phrases that will help you ensure you'll never get to know your autistic child:

  1. "I'll just let him come to me." (He won't come to you because kids with autism aren't thinking about you unless they have a good reason to do so.)
  2. "I don't want to push him." (If you never challenge your child with autism to become engaged with you or to do something outside of his comfort zone, he never will. That doesn't mean you need to push him to the point of frustration, but a little challenge goes a long way.)
  3. "He'll just get upset." (Yes, if you overwhelm your child he will get upset. But if you engage with him where he's already comfortable and provide gentle challenges, he won't get upset -- though he may become excited, happy, and engaged!)
  4. "He's simply not capable of that kind of play." (It's true that kids with autism rarely choose, completely on their own, to imitate or pretend to be someone else. But that doesn't mean kids with autism are incapable of creativity -- nor, in fact, does it mean they CAN'T imitate. It does, however, take some work on the parents' part to figure out how to help a child with autism to get started with pretend or reciprocal play.)
  1. "I'm not really comfortable with people with disabilities." (This is often a very real discomfort: many adults feel truly put off by any kind of psychological or developmental difference. It is also one of the primary reasons why parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles have little or no relationship with a family member on the autism spectrum. The best bet is to just -- get over it.)
  2. "He doesn't like me, so I'll keep my distance." (Keeping your distance is a terrific way to ensure that you'll never get any closer -- physically or emotionally -- to your autistic child. A better choice is to watch people who DO get close, see what works well, and give it a try. It's ok to try, fail, and learn from your mistakes -- but ignoring or neglecting your child is never ok.)

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