Why Autism Parents Don't Always Agree

stressed mom
stressed mom. Getty

You'd think that the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder would become fast friends and allies. After all, they have a great deal in common. Raising a child with autism can be difficult and confusing, and who would understand that better than the parent of another child with autism?

While it's certainly true that there are wonderfully supportive groups of autism parents out there, the reality is that autism parents don't always see the world in the same way.

Just as people on the spectrum are very different from one another, so too are their parents. In fact, parents of children (and adults) on the spectrum can actually become roadblocks for one another.

How is that possible? Here are just a few of the most significant reasons.

1. Every Autistic Child is Unique.

Imagine a situation in which two mothers of autistic ten year olds are advocating for their children in the same school district. But while one of the boys is high functioning, able to manage typical academics, but has challenges with social interaction, the other boy is non-verbal and has significant sensory challenges.

Mom #1 got started with her advocacy first, and was able to work with the district to set up a terrific autism classroom with just the right supports for her son. Mom #2, who started a little later, is confronted with the reality that there's a brand new autism support room in the school that has few of qualities her son needs -- and the school district is adamant that "it'll be just fine."

Mom #1 is happy with what she's helped to create, and wants no changes made; Mom #2 is advocating for significant changes to the structure and supports in the "autism classroom."

2. Parents Have Different Philosophies About Autism. 

Dad #1 has a child with moderate autism. He's overwhelmed by the difficulty of interacting with a son who does "get" sports, can't adhere to the rules of the Boy Scouts, and seems to have no interest in connecting with his same-age peers.

He is driven by the desire to help his son learn the skills he needs to fit in with his peers.

Dad #2 has a child with similar issues -- but to him, it's no big deal. "So what if our kids are different?" he asks, "we just need to support our kids as they are, and not try to turn them into someone they're not."

Dad #1 wants Dad #2 to support him as he struggles to teach his son the basics of soccer.  Dad #2 has little or no interest, and may wind up creating negative feelings as he questions Dad #1's lack of empathy for his son.

3. Parents Have Different Goals for Their Children. 

Is it more important for a child with autism to feel comfortable in an autism-friendly school setting, or to learn to manage a difficult inclusive environment? Is it better  to focus on finding a cure for your child's autism -- or to focus on helping your child to to live well with his challenges? Different goals necessarily mean that parents have different ideas about what's important in a school setting or in the community, and they may have very different ideas about how to parent a child on the spectrum.

4. Parents Embrace and Promote Different Ideas About Treatments and Causes of Autism.

Parent A is absolutely certain that her child's autism was caused by vaccines. Parent B feels that theory is a lot of nonsense.

Parent A is dedicated to  particular therapy, and believes that all parents should follow her example. She makes it her mission to reach out to every parent of an autistic child to evangelize about her chosen approach to autism treatment -- even when she's told "I'm not interested."

These types of all-or-nothing approaches can create real antagonism.

If you find yourself frustrated by the autism parents you meet, you're not alone. Fortunately, it is often possible to find a group who focuses on a particular type of autism, treatment, or philosophy -- so you may discover a group that's right up your alley.

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