Revised Answer to Autistic v Typical Child

I didn't answer one of the submitted questions as well as I should have. Here was the key to the question and the one I should have addressed:
My husband thinks I am wrong to 'expect so much' from her. I think that she's very intelligent and that I would be failing her if I just said 'she has autism' every time….
Am I in the wrong? Am I damaging her by treating her like a typical kid?
Here's the new, improved answer: No.

It is unlikely you are damaging any child with a disability by trying to treat that child as much like other children as possible. I should include a dozen caveats and warnings, but most are commonsense. Some disabilities do limit what we can do, but not what we can accomplish.

We "mainstream" students in special education because we know that separate is not equal, because the experiences of students in a "special" class do differ from the experiences of students in a "normal" class situation. "Normal" simply means the average experience, the standard experience of the majority. If you don't learn how to deal with the standard experiences of daily life, you are at a distinct disadvantage as an adult.

You cannot learn how to navigate social settings without experience those settings. You cannot learn social "norms" without observing those norms and being asked to follow the rules appropriate to each settings.

Some children, teens, and adults will not master the rules for all contexts. We must appreciate there are limits to what some individuals can master, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. There are social skills and emotional skills I will not master. However, I wouldn't know my weaknesses without experiencing those deficits. You don't know what you can or cannot do without trying -- and then you adapt accordingly to accomplish goals.

My parents exposed me to Cub Scouts, Little League, and a local chess club. Though I received external supports from a "resource specialist" in elementary school, and did use "independent study" several times in high school, for the most part I was among peers. No, it didn't always go smoothly, but social settings don't always go well for "normal" people either.

I encourage parents to avoid coddling, babying, protecting, sheltering, or whatever else you want to call the impulse. Your disabled child will experience the joys and disappointments, just like most humans. The experiences will be different, yes, but they are valuable experiences dealing with the world.

The rules do not change for autistic people: the law is the law, ethical guidelines are still enforced at work and school, and social norms remain in place. People might tolerate the mistakes and misunderstandings related to autism or another cognitive disability, but we do not tolerate blatant and knowing misbehavior.

Too many of the autistic teens and young adults I meet have been allowed to do whatever they want and use "autism" as an excuse. Sure, they are a minority of the high-functioning population, but you can be "autistic" and still be a troublemaker. It isn't as if "autism" elevates a teen above the problems of other teenagers. Teenagers, with or without autism, often ignore or fail to anticipate the consequences of their actions. But, they do have to learn there are consequences.

So, no… you are not going to break, damage, or emotionally scar most children or teens with a disability by trying to be consistent as a parent. You do have to consider the individual nature of the child -- but you must do that with any child. No two children are alike. I suggest being cautious, mainly because the autistic child or teen does perceive the world and emotions differently. My parents soon realized that Cub Scouts was not a good "fit" for me. There are plenty of young men for whom scouting isn't a match. No major harm done.

Only the parents and support professionals familiar with a child can decide what is an appropriate way to adapt parenting methods to that individual child. What's really impressive is how resilient most children are.


  1. I'm sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to comment. There has been a lot going on, it is always busy here with 5 children, but there have been other health issues that took a lot of my time.

    My daughter is aware of why things are 'wrong'--hitting people hurts them, people do not like to be injured, hurting anything living is not allowed. She has been taught why things are wrong, we don't expect her to just know. All children need to be taught this, in fact she's better at understanding and behaving than her 'typical' siblings in most instances.

    This is why I asked the question. My husband has always thought she should be, for lack of a better description based on his actions, coddled. She IS his first child and my second. I had to fight just to have her evaluated- he refused to believe there was anything out of the ordinary with her development or behavior.

    He says I am too hard on her--but because of my perceived 'harshness', she loves to cuddle, will look you in the eye to talk, actually talks now, and interacts with her siblings in imaginative play. My 'harshness' was:

    Hugging her every day, as often as possible. If she pushed away or tried to run, I would hug tighter for one second, kiss her cheek and say, Mommy loves you! She'd get mad at first, then became used to it. Now she hugs us all and hugs tighter than anyone else.

    Putting my finger under her chin to guide her eyes to mine when we walked. Not hard pressure, but gentle guidance. I wouldn't respond unless she looked at me.

    Talking--I can't take credit for anything except for pushing my husband and pediatrician to bring in Early Intervention.

    There are other things, but most of it revolves around the fact that I won't let anyone sell her short. She has learned right from wrong--basic behavior of not hurting others. We don't concentrate on social politeness other than basic manners, saying thank you, bless you, and excuse me. If she forgets those, it's not important, what is important is that she understands that hurting someone brings consequences, stealing brings consequences, and destroying other people's property does. I don't want her life to be all about 'I have autism", I want her life to be, "I am a person, I am not my autism." (If that makes sense. Everyone in my circles seem to want to place the special needs ahead of who and what their child is or can be.)

  2. You might not appreciate this insight:

    I have never and will never forgive those who demanded I look at them in the eyes. I despise those people and despise them deeply. I just have the intellectual capacity to know I have to "keep quiet" about how deeply the demands of some people hurt. The pain never goes away. Neither does the pressure to act normal.

    Doing wrong and hurting others is one thing. Being told my sensory overload is wrong? I cannot accept that. Looking at someone in the eyes means I cannot focus on their words. Often, I cannot look directly at someone and follow anything their saying. The visual overload is too much.

    Asking an autistic person to process sensory data in the same way you do is to ignore that autism is a neurological difference. Again, that has nothing at all to do with morally right and wrong.

    I'll stop writing there. My opinions and my visceral reactions are much too deep. Just know I have never been able to forget the pain I experienced as a child; it is seared into my memory.

  3. (Forgive typos. Their = they're. Blogger will not permit editing. It should.)


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