Over the years, my parents and I have seen many different reactions to my brother. I’ve had people look at him with sadness, with irritation, and have even seen people (mostly kids) point and laugh at him. And today, I thought we could discuss the do’s and don’ts of interacting with autistic kids. Keep in mind, most of these things are just common sense and others are subjective. Some of these things may or may not apply to you or someone you know.
Don’t stare at him/her. It’s so frustrating seeing people stare at my brother like he’s some kind of freak show for them to freely gawk at. Back when my brother was born in 1992, I might’ve understood the confusion. Autism wasn’t well known at the time according to my mom. But nowadays, with autism being such a commonly known thing, why are you staring? I normally remedy the situation by just staring back at them until they look away from him. My dad always ignores it, saying that Jake doesn’t realize he’s being stared at and doesn’t care. But like I’ve said before, I feel the hurt for him in a sense so I get extra defensive. Weren’t you taught when you were a little kid that it’s rude to stare?
Do ask questions. If you’re curious, we’d be happy to ask any questions you have. Just coming up to my mom and asking what his diagnosis is would be perfectly fine. We’d rather you ask and get to know him and the situation instead of just staring at him and wondering what the hell is wrong with him. I’ve never really been asked about him before in public. People just…ya know…STARE AT HIM.
Don’t put your hands on him/her. Give them their space. This might be a subjective one, or maybe not, depends on the person I guess. But my dad has always said he doesn’t really care what people say about my brother as long as they don’t put their hands on him. Unless you’re a parent or a teacher, don’t put your hands on him. At the charity event my dad sets up for autism every year, there’s a lot of people that attend and they had a tendency to squeeze past my brother’s seat, which was making him a little tense. My step-dad eventually just stood behind my brother’s chair so that would stop. But one woman who must’ve been drunk because no one in their right mind would do this, got really into a song that was playing and rammed right into my step-dad, who bumped my brother, which caused a complete meltdown and required both my step-dad and dad’s strength to restrain him and calm him down. So please, I know that sometimes there isn’t much you can do in public places if it’s crowded, but if you can, just try to be aware of the people around you.
Do be understanding. My brother might touch you or grab your hand or poke at you or wanna take your phone (he thinks it’s an iPod touch like our mom has) because he thinks it’ll play his music. However, he might do the opposite as well. Don’t think he hates you because he’s not acknowledging you. I don’t think he hates anyone. He literally just doesn’t care. If it’s not playing music or playing his favorite movie, he has no interest hahaha but don’t take it personally. He’s just a butt sometimes.
Don’t treat him/her like a disease. I can’t tell you how many times people flinch away from him when they see him or when he walks by them. It is infuriating, more so than staring actually. Autism and mental retardation are not contagious, assholes. I don’t usually wanna resort to name calling but people who flinch or cower when they’re near my brother get me so worked up. Don’t cringe when he touches you. Unless he has food, spit, blood, or occasionally poop (don’t ask) on his hands, then I totally get you. But if he’s just walking past you, WHY ARE YOU CRINGING LIKE HE’S GOT SOME KIND OF DISEASE?! IS THAT A JOKE?!
And lastly, don’t point and laugh or make fun of him/her. I remember my brother used to like to watch the kids splash around in the pool in my dad’s old apartment complex. One day, he was getting especially excited, rocking back and forth really fast and his arms going in a boat rowing motion if that makes sense. He was squealing and making this really funny duck face he makes when he’s excited with his eyebrows raised and his eyes wide. And while we just think it’s cute and we kinda laugh because he’ll move his arms really, really fast, we didn’t appreciate the kids pointing and laughing at him maliciously. My step-mom and I almost went outside to bust some skulls but my dad told us to just let it go. DON’T POINT AND LAUGH AT AN AUTISTIC KID. Not all kids are as severe as my brother and some may actually noticed they’re being laughed at. Don’t mock them either. That’s fucked up. My dad and I crack jokes about him all the time. But we’re family, humor is how we’ve coped with it. You don’t get to be in on the joke. I don’t get offended easily, but I’m defensive of my brother. I’ve never been in a fight and I’d probably get my ass kicked if I did, but I could definitely see myself getting in a fight over him.
All in all, be considerate, be understanding, be polite. Don’t stare, don’t mock, and don’t cringe when they’re near you. Autism is something that has gotten much more attention since the 90’s but it still needs more because some people in this world are still ignorant. And don’t get it twisted, ignorance is not always a bad thing. I’m ignorant to a lot of things, I still have much to learn about the world. There’s still a lot for some of you to learn about autism. If you have any other do’s and don’ts, feel free to leave them in the comments.