Relatability – Autistic Adults and Parents

It occurred to me the other day, that allistic (non-autistic) parents mostly focus their conversations on the things that they relate to. This is also true of Autistic adults. Most people seem to focus primarily on the things that they relate most easily to, and this is logical to me.

Allistic parents don’t relate to their children’s experiences, they relate to the experiences of other allistic parents of Autistic children. So that’s what they talk about with each other. They talk about how hard it is for them, how they feel about it, and how they can get their children to do what they want their children to do because that’s how they were raised and that’s what’s normal and expected of children in our society.

Autistic adults who aren’t parents and don’t work with children, don’t seem to relate to the allistic parents’ experience of and feelings about parenting very much at all. Instead they relate to the child’s experience, which makes sense.

However, I regularly see a fair amount of dismissing of parental feelings and experiences from the Autistic adult side; which doesn’t go over very well with the allistic parents who don’t relate to their child’s experience at all. Instead these parents are trying to deal with their big feelings about parenting an Autistic child and getting nothing from Autistic adults that seems to them to be immediately helpful.

At that point of struggle, I honestly don’t think the parents are able to listen to and really understand someone presenting their child’s experience. When anyone is having big feelings themselves, the last thing they want to hear or are able to understand is, “Well, but the other person was probably feeling… or dealing with…”

But allistic parental struggles and perspectives, steeped as they are in our culture’s toxic expectations of all children, are often offensive and harmful. So offensive and harmful that even Autistic parents, like myself, who can relate to the parenting struggles to some degree, can find it difficult not to jump right in with the child’s perspective or helpful suggestions for making one’s life more autism-friendly instead of “fighting” or “complaining” about it.

So… the struggling allistic parents write off Autistic adults as a reliable source of information and go commiserate with other allistic parents who often reinforce their negative assumptions about Autistic children’s motivations, but the parents are getting their experiences validated, which is what their immediate need was.

As an Autistic parent I can often relate both to the parent and the child. I remember being an Autistic child and I surely do remember my children’s meltdowns over the years (and the last several days).

Yes, parenting is hard. Parenting non-autistic children is hard too. I have both. It sucks sometimes, it really does. But children are their own people and parents are the adults. Once we’ve worked through our big feelings about having to leave the store without buying anything from that gigantic cart of groceries we left in aisle 3 after spending an hour filling it up, we have to remember that we are parents. We are the adults.

Parents have to try and understand our children and how they experience the world so that we can help them be most successful and help them learn what supports they need in order to survive or thrive in a hostile world.

Maybe spending an hour in the grocery store was too much for the child. Next time perhaps we should make more frequent trips that aren’t as long. Maybe we could find ways to make the trip easier in other ways by providing ear defenders, sunglasses, a sweater (I often find stores to be too cold, especially in the hot summer), something to fidget with, a weighted vest, etc. tailored to our child’s specific sensory and stimming needs.

Parents should be safe for children, as much as we can be. Everyone loses their temper. Everyone says things sometimes that they wish they could take back, but an apology and some time spent trying to better understand and make things easier in the future  can go a long way towards repairing a relationship — even one that’s been damaged by years of misunderstandings.

Allistic parents, please listen to Autistic adults. Get out your venting, talk (in private, please!) to people who can commiserate with your experiences, but please get your information about how your children experience the world from Autistic adults, not from other allistic parents. Y’all get it wrong pretty much every time (as one would expect) unless you’ve been consistently listening to us for a fair amount of time.

And really, most Autistic adults who are willing to talk to parents about their children’s experiences aren’t looking to tear you down or invalidate your experiences — we just want your children to be better understood by you than we were (or are) by our parents ❤

4 thoughts on “Relatability – Autistic Adults and Parents

  1. Well said, but I doubt that a lot of allistic parents will actually follow your advice, a lot of them are just too focused on complaining rather than wanting to hear what we (autistic people, adults AND kids) have to say about the world around us. Sorry if I am not so positive… Anyway, GOOD LUCK! Greetings from France!

    Liked by 2 people

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