I’ve read so many times on autism parenting pages about parents being super upset when they tell someone that their child has autism and the listener responds with, “They don’t look autistic” and honestly, these upset parents have a point. What does someone with autism look like exactly? Are these responses confused with people with Down syndrome? Or some other physical disability?
My brother and sister in law actually do have a beautiful daughter who was born with Down syndrome. Once when I was talking with my brother he said that he thought we had it harder raising our son, mr. L with autism then they did with their daughter. He said because strangers could recognize his daughter’s disability physically, they gave them more of a break when things got stressful in public. Where as with our son, if he had a melt down or was just having a rough moment, people don’t necessarily recognize that there could potentially be a mental disability and be more understanding.
Instead, people are quick to judge my child as naughty, bad, disrespectful, or spoiled. And they often give judging looks towards my husband and I, assuming we lack discipline skills, spoil, enable the behaviors, and should figure out how holy the gift of spanking apparently is 🙄
Honestly I don’t notice the stares anymore. I don’t care if strangers think I suck. Taking care of my child is far more important than Karen’s dire need for me to know how she feels about my child’s behavior.
But if I do happen to notice George and Anita staring wide eyed or glaring, I don’t mind staring right back with a great big smile on my face until they awkwardly high tail it out of there.
But back to my original point, there actually are “looks” to autism. Not always, because everyone on the spectrum is unique and have different reasons for being diagnosed. But still, we as a family do see others on the spectrum when we go out.
I say as a family, because even though my boys don’t verbally tell me they found other kids with autism, my husband and I see our sons naturally gravitate to those we think are on the spectrum. Mr. L will play with anyone on the spectrum regardless of age and mr. C tends to play with kids his age or younger who seem to have social disabilities.
So here’s the secret, the “look” is not a physical give away. It’s a way in how they interact with the world around them. A few things that I notice; headphones, flapping arms, wiggling their fingers by their face when they get excited, full body waving, jumping, or a full body random shake when trying to communicate. Also, moving away from other humans in an uncomfortable way who happen to walk past. There can just be this unspoken avoidance of the humans around them, until you reach out to them or their parent.
So yes, there can be a difference, but it’s less of a physical look, and more of a physical act. I personally think that this is where the stress that adults with autism talk about partly comes from. I’ve read that some adults with autism feel so stressed because they feel like they need to conform, hide, or pretend to act like the neurotypical people around them. They have been taught either by teachers, peers, or society that to be aloud around others they have to hide the natural way they stand and move.
I wish that wasn’t a thing. I think being unique is wonderful and keeps things interesting. When I see children on the spectrum I like to reach out if the situation is appropriate. When I took my son, mr. L to a train exhibit he wanted to look at some posters that a teenager and his grandpa were looking at. When mr. L moved up, the teen moved quickly and uncomfortably away like he didn’t want to be touched or interacted with. The way he didn’t look at his grandpa when he told him he wanted to look at a train near by gave away the possibility that he might be on the spectrum.
I told his grandpa we didn’t mean to scare the teen away, and the older man mumbled something along the lines that that was just how his grandson was and that it wasn’t a big deal. I said, “I get it, this is my son mr. L and he has autism” the man lit up and said, “So is my grandson!” I smiled and told him I thought he might be. Soon mr. L was wandering around with the teen. The two flowed together and drifted apart and back together in some unspoken pattern that I will probably never understand, and his grandfather was excited to have an an adult comrade to talk about raising a boy on the spectrum with.
Has anyone told you, you or your child didn’t look autistic? Do you have any other tics or quirks that you usually pick up on as a possible give away as autism? Tell us about it 😊