Autism: Don't say my son looks normal

17 January 2018

Dear Friend,

My son has autism, he is doing his best to fit into a world that can be extremely confusing to him. Problems arise when we meet new people because his disability is invisible. 

Although, I don't want my son to have to wear an armband or badge to show his disability I do tell people we meet, that he is autistic, in the hope that they will show patience. 

Often the person will reply with: He looks normal or Really, you can't tell or some other platitude...

Contrary to what you may think, platitudes are not a compliment. 

Initially, I wanted to reply; Well, you look intelligent... 
or 
I didn't know that you were a child psychologist?

There is no mark of autism, no tell tale sign. Hans Asperger noted that many of his patients were strikingly beautiful with large eyes and Scientists are conducting research into identifying autism using facial scanning techniques but to the naked eye there is nothing to see.
Saying my son looks normal is at best stereotyping and at worst shows you are ready to judge people simply based on their looks.
This is what autism looks like in our family...

 

We went through a long and very difficult process to get the right diagnosis for our son. We did not do this lightly. We recognised that he was having problems that were affecting his day to day life in a big way. I do not need to list my son's autistic credentials to make you believe he is autistic, we know he is...
By saying my son looks normal, you are trivialising his difficulties and questioning my parenting!
But I honestly believe that by saying, you can't tell... most people (in a clumsy way) are trying to show support.

Actually it shows ignorance.

In 2015 the National Autistic Society carried out a YouGov poll and found that more than 99.5% of people in the UK had heard of autism... BUT... In the same YouGov poll just 16% of autistic people and their families said that the public had a meaningful understanding of autism. 
By saying my son looks normal it demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of what autism is
It is time that we challenge the myths, misconceptions and stereotypes that mean that 79% of autistic people feel socially isolated. If you do not understand something then ask.

I love this quote from the inspirational Maya Angelou:
If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be. 
My son is unique, an out of the box thinker, has an eye for detail, is funny, caring and tenacious, he is anything but normal, he is amazing!
Isn't 'normal' overrated? 
Perhaps my son does appear 'normal' to you but you spend a short amount of time in his company and he is very clever as he has learned how to behave around others, how to respond as expected. I know how much effort and energy this takes out of him. It must be exhausting spending your life acting the way people want, following the many social rules that seem like a foreign language.

Occasionally the act slips or he makes a mistake then people react with disappointment. Why is he behaving like that?
He has autism!
You can make a change. If you meet someone with autism. Be kind, be patient and smile. And don't belittle their challenges by normalising them.

Next time someone tells me my son looks normal, I'm going to say;
 No he isn't Normal he's extraordinary!
Autism is our normal...

More posts about autism...

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