It’s no secret that having a child on the autism spectrum can change your life. You take all the steps necessary to make sure your child is supported as they develop and grow. It requires a lot of sacrifice which makes dealing with bias or judgement from peers, relatives, and the general public especially difficult. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can adopt to deal with autism bias, stereotypes and judgement.
Though education and information surrounding autism has increased exponentially, there are still many deep-rooted stereotypes and biases floating around. Chances are high you’ve come across them already in the form of comments or microaggressions geared toward you, your child, your family or your situation. These are by no means right, but they can usually be attributed to a simple lack of knowledge. This leads us to our first strategy: education.
Share the Knowledge
Some of the most common misconceptions include: people on the autism spectrum are non-emotional, people on the spectrum are all the same, and stereotypes related to their perceived intellectual ability. These misconceptions can manifest themselves into people outwardly underestimating you child’s ability to learn, show sympathy and function as an independent member of society. These misconceptions are exactly that, ideas conceived by misinformation. In these instances, doing your best to share your knowledge and any informational resources you have at your disposal can make a world of difference.
If someone reinforces one of these stereotypes to you, try to see it as an opportunity to educate, offering your perspective as an experienced caretaker affected daily by an autism diagnosis. If you offer to expand their knowledge on the topic supported by a polite demeanor and factual resources, chances are they’ll want to hear you out and reconsider contributing to the implicit biases they used to reinforce.
Do Your Best to Remain Calm
Any kind of judgement can feel hurtful and harsh, even if it’s not intended to be. That makes dealing with them particularly difficult. We recommend always doing your best to remain calm and collected in these frustrating times. If you can take those comments in stride, you’ll be better equipped to handle them in a way that shows respect and treats them as a learning opportunity for you and your peers.
In the moment, this can be especially difficult so if you don’t think you can seize that moment as it happens, it’s always a safe bet to take a step back instead. Removing yourself from the situation will allow you to truly think about what the next best steps are while reflecting on the situation.
- Is it worth it to confront this person (or people) about this?
- If so, what/where/when is the best way to approach them?
- If not, who should I talk to about this or what are my next steps?
- Do I have the resources readily available to share facts about this topic?
- Will this judgement or bias affect my child’s daily life?
Reflecting on these will give you a much clearer idea on how to handle the situation. Weigh your options, choose your battles wisely and if needed, inform supervisors or higher ups of the issue when relevant.
Assume the Best
Though this one may seem simple, it is arguably one of the most important. There is no justifying a harsh criticism, belittlement or an outright rude comment about your situation, family or child. It will hurt to hear these stereotypes reinforced when you know they’re not true. That being said, if we accept the responsibility of putting our best foot forward and assuming the best in all people, we will be better for it.
Always remember that most of these biases and stereotypes people on the spectrum face are mostly the result of outdated information or an outright lack of education on the subject. If you’re having difficulty assuming the best you may find it helpful to ask yourself, would I have known as much as I do about autism if it wasn’t a part of my family/situation? Chances are the answer to that will be no- and you’ll find yourself in a better headspace to place yourself in their shoes and come to know why their understanding may be limited.
If you find yourself unable to confront these things as they come up, be sure you have someone to talk about it with. Using our support network is crucial to a healthy and mindful life for you and your family.