Evaluating Autism Parenting Books

Otherwise entitled: “How can a desperate parent tell when a book about parenting an Autistic child will be helpful vs harmful?” (with a short detour to start  with)

I’m an Autistic parent. I’ve never found a lack of understanding for parents in general from the Autistic community. Just a lack of understanding for parents who abuse Autistic children, violate their children’s privacy, and spread harmful ideas. That’s it.

Parents who feel misunderstood or maligned by the Autistic community would do well to examine what they’re doing or saying and whether they’re truly listening to Actually Autistic adults.

~Mamautistic Tweets from March 9, 2018

Parents of Autistic children are often very desperate for guidance once their child has received an autism diagnosis. The cultural narrative surrounding autism is one of doom. “A fate worse than death” is even how some see it.

There are significant cultural currents that drive these narratives of doom and gloom. These currents are further bolstered/reinforced by the sheer amount of money, generated by desperate parents, flowing into the pockets of those that benefit most from these narratives.

Who benefits the most from these narratives? Certainly not Autistic people ourselves! The large “advocacy” groups, the centers that provide abusive “therapies,” and the “doctors” who push harmful and often abusive “cures” for autism are just a few of the beneficiaries, but I’m getting off-topic here.

How can a desperate parent tell when a book about parenting an Autistic child will be potentially helpful vs harmful?

–First of all, a helpful book about parenting Autistic children will either be written by someone who is Autistic themself or who has respectfully listened to Autistic adults about our experiences being Autistic children and growing up in an unfriendly world.

The latter should probably also have at least a few Autistic adults do sensitivity/accuracy readings for good measure. Just to be certain. Extra listening is never a bad thing and indicates a willingness to seek greater understanding, which I see as essential.

–Parents who listen to Autistic people probably will not insist upon using the phrase “person/child with autism” while referring to themselves as “autism parents.”

This is not a hard and fast rule, but it *can indicate a lack of listening. On the other hand, sometimes authors will adopt our phrasings in order to seem as though they’re listening when they really aren’t.

For clarification on this, see the point about how an author interacts with the Autistic community when we have concerns and the note at the very bottom.

–Books that outline embarrassing details about Autistic children and/or adults without the Autistic people’s consent may contain helpful information, but they are harmful to the person whose details were shared.

Publicly sharing intimate details of another person’s life is not necessary for someone to convey helpful parenting advice. Often these sorts of details end up with a competition of sorts where parents talk about how “badly” they have it with their Autistic child, without any thought to the Autistic child’s present or possible futures that could be negatively affected by their public sharing of private matters.

Please keep this in mind and try to respect Autistic people’s privacy by choosing instead to purchase books from or follow authors who are respectful and discreet when relating stories about the Autistic people under their care or in their lives.

Stories shared with permission or about oneself are fine, of course.

–Books that advocate or detail abusive methods for raising Autistic children are not helpful. Abusive methods are harmful. Full stop.

In this case, I don’t care if the author is Autistic or not. If the methods are ones that would be frowned upon if done to an allistic (non-autistic) child then the methods are not acceptable to use on Autistic children either.

This can be a little tricky to sort through, given that even the most typical of children aren’t treated terribly well in our society to begin with, but if you feel badly and conflicted about doing something to your child and it’s not a life or death sort of situation? Then it’s probably a harmful thing to do. Kindness and understanding go a long way with children.

–Books that focus on trying to understand the perspective of an Autistic child are probably going to be helpful. This is again, however, only going to be true if there has been a good deal of Autistic input.

Many gentle/respectful parenting books in general (not specifically about Autistic children) focus a great deal on trying to understand what one’s child is experiencing and what they need in order to thrive. Those can be helpful too, especially if combined with a solid foundation of Autistic writings (whether those writings are about parenting or not).

In fact, I’d recommend regular gentle/respectful parenting books plus Autistic adult writings before I’d recommend any of the “autism parent memoirs” that I know of.

–Look at how the author interacts with the online Autistic community (especially if the author is allistic). Do they listen to us respectfully? Or do they become defensive, claim their book “wasn’t written for us,” and attack us in response? Some allistic authors have even put out a call to friends and family members to join them in attacking us and silencing our concerns.

How an author treats Autistic adults will tell you volumes about how well they’ve listened to us and how much or little they respect Autistic people (including the very children they write about).

–“Cures” are not helpful unless they’re addressing a co-occurring medical issue that an Autistic child happens to have. Autism has no “cure” and yet many people make a good living selling and/or writing about such products.

Be wary of such writings and products.

No parenting advice is going to be perfect, which leads me to my **final point:

–One-size-fits-all parenting advice is going to have a limited helpfulness.

There are so many variables that have to be taken into account in every single parenting situation. If someone is recommending specific things across the board for all Autistic children (especially things that cost money and/or are abusive) then be very wary.

The only across-the-board recommendation I have is that you try to better understand your child and learn how they experience the world so that you can more effectively navigate the nuances of each individual situation with each individual Autistic child.

Behavior is communication and there is almost always a good reason that an Autistic person (child or not) is behaving a certain way. Figure out what that reason might be and you will have gained great understanding.

We (Autistics) are all different. Gaining more understanding of Autistic experiences in general, and of your Autistic loved-ones’ experiences more specifically, is necessary in order to be as helpful and supportive as possible to the Autistic people in your life ❤


*Again, this is just a general red flag sort of thing because Autistic adults don’t often appreciate the double standard of parents using “person first” language for us while using identity first language for themselves. Yes, some people with autism prefer “person first” language and that’s fine, but if someone allistic (non-autistic) is going to use the less accepted “person first” label for Autistic people then they could at least be respectfully consistent and not use identity first language for themselves.

**This is not even remotely a complete list. If anyone has further thoughts please comment with them and I may add them to the list (with permission, of course).

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