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Autism 101: The good, the bad and the ugly

Allison Ziering Walmark is a wife and mother.

Prior to writing for SheKnows, Walmark worked at consumer magazines including Parents, Traditional Home, Tennis, and LIFE. She has written articles that have appeared in Major League Baseb...

Those not-so-great questions about autism

America. Land of the free. Home of the brave. And sometimes, land of the sometimes offensive and not-so-useful questions. (Not to mention all things fried and super-sized, but that's for another article.)

You would assume with the recent multi-media autism awareness initiatives that the general population would be more sensitized and aware about autism — the nation’s fastest growing health crisis. Sadly, it seems that this is not so.

Insensitive and intrusive

My friends and I who have children on the autism spectrum “Club Members,” as we call ourselves often get together to laugh (and cry) about people’s insensitive and intrusive comments. As if the daily balance of therapies, meltdowns, behavior quirks, siblings and spouses isn’t enough to push us close to the edge, Club Members must also deal with the general public and their sometimes not-so-kind statements and/or questions.

The Top 10

Heretowith, is a Top 10 list of inane and insane statements and questions that the “Club Members” have had to contend with over the years, and the politically incorrect replies we’d like to give, if only we didn’t live in a duplicitous politically correct world.

1

He doesn’t look autistic.

No, he doesn’t. The same way you don’t look like you'd approach me with a rude comment. And yet, here we are.

2

Do you have an autistic kid?

No, I do not have an autistic kid. But, I do have a child with autism. Autism is just one aspect of his multi-faceted life; autism doesn’t define who he is. It is one part of who he is.

3

He seems a little “off.” Is he always like that?

No, he’s not always like that. Sometimes, he adds kicking, crying and screaming to the mix. Because like San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, he likes to throw an unexpected change-up every now and then.

4

I know you say he’s got autism, but I don’t believe it.

Thank you for your diagnosis. Now that you’ve said he’s fine, my husband and I can stop spending tens of thousands of dollars annually for unnecessary therapies. We can take that money, domesticate a Bengal tiger and keep it in the backyard. The kids would really like that.

5

Are your other children embarrassed about having an autistic sibling?

My children are less embarrassed by their sibling than your children most certainly are about having a mother who offends strangers with hurtful questions.

6

You poisoned your children with vaccines. I never vaccinated my kids, and they are all fine.

Thank you, kind stranger, for essentially putting me in the same category as Casey Anthony and Susan Smith, those two other motherhood icons.

7

My kids have the option to take the “tart cart” to school when the “real” bus runs late, but I would never allow them to do that.

I completely understand; My kids refuse to ride in anything but a Ferrari or Maserati! I’ll assume “tart cart” is your euphemism for the “little yellow bus” (which, for the record, should never be confused with the Joni Mitchell or Counting Crow’s cover of “Big Yellow Taxi”) which is the euphemism for “special needs transportation.”

See 5 celebs who are passionate about autism >>

8

My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who has a child with autism that he passed out at 31 Flavors last night. They think it’s diet related.

Listen, lady — and I take a great leap of faith to call you, “Lady" — If removing pancakes… or dairy… or nuts… or gluten… or any other miscellaneous and offensive gastronomical item would make my son (more) typical, I would do that in a heartbeat. But in this case, it’s not that simple.

9

Your child is being disruptive. He should wear an armband to let people know he’s different.

First of all, armbands are so World War II. Second, while I never underestimate the importance of a good accessory, it’s very difficult to find an armband that can fashionably take my child from daytime to nighttime. By the way, is that an “I’m with Stupid” shirt I see your husband wearing?

10

You know, the French blame “Refrigerator Mothers” for making kids autistic.

Sacré bleu! Yes, well the French still consider Jerry Lewis a comical genius, wanted Dominique Strauss-Kahn as their president, and eat snails. Enough said.

Read about the silver lining in The upside of autism: Joyful reflections from parents of autistic children >>

We — the Club Members — understand human nature. But we also live by the adage "knowledge is power." We are collectively proud of our children, and want to demystify and destigmatize autism, and special needs children in general.

We look forward to your questions, as long as they are thoughtful, insightful and helpful, versus rude, intrusive and hurtful. And please understand that "little pitchers have big ears"  — and that your questions don't go unnoticed by our children, either.

For more information on autism, visit www.autismspeaks.org

Tell Us

Moms of children who have special needs, what's the most insensitive thing a stranger has said to you?

More about autism

A spectrum of Grey
Don't be so quick to judge kids' public behavior
Living with autism: Now what?

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