What I Mean When I Tell You “She’s Autistic”

I want the world to become more educated about neurodiversity. Knowing people with autism diagnoses means understanding can come more easily to us all. So if I come straight out and say “she’s on the spectrum,” that means “check your judgment.” It means “resist assumptions.”

When I tell you that my daughter has been given an autism diagnosis, what I’m really saying is this:

When she does something you don’t expect, choose compassion over judgment.

If she doesn’t want to give you a hi-5 or a smile when she greets you, don’t assume she’s impolite. If she walks away from you when you’re talking to her, don’t assume she’s ignoring you on purpose.

If she gets upset when mighty girl photoyou don’t want to do things exactly her way, every single time, repetitively and consistently for hours or days or weeks on end, know that it’s something that comes with her autism.

When she shuts down and retreats in the middle of a play session with your kid, it’s probably because the rules of a game suddenly got changed. Or it could be that the conversation and activity is happening too fast to process.

When she can’t come to your child’s birthday party because she’s too scared there will be strangers there and too much noise and food that smells bad, don’t assume she doesn’t want to be there. She does. She wants so badly to come, I promise.

When she doesn’t get excited about things or doesn’t think things are funny, take it as a compliment that she’s showing you how she really feels. She’s not faking it. She’s not pretending to care or laugh. Showing that side of herself to you means she trusts you.

As her parents, we were relieved when we
got the diagnosis. Finally someone could tell us that we weren’t just being terrible parents. Indeed we hadn’t somehow created a monster. And she wasn’t just being a brat.

Her behaviors come from a particular place. There’s a reason and a purpose for them.

Getting the diagnosis enabled us to look at her behaviors completely differently. Instead of being angry and frustrated, we worked harder to understand her triggers so that we could teach her to cope.

Telling you about her diagnosis means that you can understand and identify what you see in her, too. She’s not a brat. She’s not sick. She’s not weird. And we’re not ashamed.

She is part of the fascinating world of neurodivergence, and we will always expect you to honor her humanity.

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