Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

When Words Hurt Part One: It Is Natural to Get Defensive or Upset When Someone Says Something Unkind. but by Staying Open to the Conversation, You Have the Opportunity to Teach Others about How to Be More Supportive to You and Your Child

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

When Words Hurt Part One: It Is Natural to Get Defensive or Upset When Someone Says Something Unkind. but by Staying Open to the Conversation, You Have the Opportunity to Teach Others about How to Be More Supportive to You and Your Child

Article excerpt

People can be cruel even when they don't mean to be. The looks of disapproval, litany of unsolicited advice, and careless references directed at a person with autism or special needs - or their family - can be as emotionally painful as any physical injury sustained.

For Tracy Pennington of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, mother of four-year-old Jaxson and wife of Rollie Brandon Pennington, USMC E6, interactions that suggest she is not doing enough as a parent are particularly hard-hitting. "People are always asking me if I've tried such and such ... that if I did whatever they suggest, my child would be 'more normal'" she says.

"Autism, like most disorders, is very complex. Insensitive remarks typically come from people who have a limited understanding of what the disorder is and what it isn't," says Hanna C. Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Vice President of Autism Services at May Institute and Director of Evidence-based Practice at the National Autism Center. "People in general are slow to accept what they don't understand, but have the capacity to be more supportive when they learn more - in this case, more about autism spectrum disorders."

Even so, chalking up hurtful language or attitudes to ignorance offers little comfort to parents who find themselves in social settings with people who are quick to judge a behavior that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Keep in mind that there are strategies to help you successfully turn these encounters into opportunities to inform and educate, while advocating for your child and family.

What's pushing your buttons?

As part of a broader public awareness campaign about autism, May Institute asked military and civilian families served by Institute centers and schools to identify insensitive or hurtful comments they have experienced.

There were a number of recurring "offenders" that will likely sound familiar to parents of children with autism

1. "What's wrong with her?

2. "If you just disciplined him more he would know that isn't acceptable behavior."

3. "Does your kid have issues?"

4. "Have you tried ... ...? If you did, she would be more normal."

5. "Your child doesn't look autistic or retarded.

6. "Oh, so he's like Rain Man? …

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