Last weekend, I took Matthew to the grocery store with me, and while we waited in line, I ran to get a gallon of milk. When I got back, Matthew looked upset. “Are you OK?” I asked. “Not really,” he replied sheepishly. “Something happened, but we’re not going to talk about it.” I glanced at the people around us, looking for some clue of what “happened,” but no one looked perturbed. We left the store, and as we were putting our bags in the car, Matthew asked “What does it mean when someone says “Shame on you?”.
It occurred to me that one of the most demanding aspects of parenting a child with autism is not only translating nuanced statements such as these, but making sure you don’t use them yourself.
Here is a list of 21 things NOT to say to a person with an autism spectrum disorder, compiled with the help of members of my facebook autism forum:
1. Shame on you. 2. How many times do I have to tell you?
3. Maybe (or maybe next time).
4. If you are good all week, I’ll give you blah blah blah.
5. What is wrong with you?
7. It’s not loud to me.
8. I told you yesterday.
9. Wait just a minute. (Unless it’s truly just a minute)
10. I promise. (Unless you are absolutely sure you can do what you are promising.)
11. It’s not a big deal that your Pokemon cards are out of order.
12. Look me in the eye.
13. Stop obsessing.(It’s like saying “stop breathing” to a child with autism.)
14. Idioms of any kind, such as “It’s raining cat’s and dogs.”
15. Shhh! You need to be quiet in here. (The guaranteed response to that is, “BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE QUIET!” at max volume.)
16. You need to wait.
17. You’d better behave.
18. Look at me when I am talking to you.
19. “Go ahead and ______ . See what happens.” (sarcasm, however slight, is bad. Autistic or not. )
20. It doesn’t matter, you still need to…
21. Do you want a time out?
Here is how I translated “Shame on you” to Matthew, though I never found out what happened:
“When someone say’s “Shame on you,” they are telling you that you did something that they think you should not have done. For example, one time when I was 10 years old, I took a piece of candy from the store without paying, and a lady saw me and said, “Shame on you.”
Matthew is still obsessing about my story.
Sometimes, you can’t win.
This was originally posted on the San Fransisco Chronicle’s Website
Laura Shumaker is the author of A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism, and a columnist forwww.5minutesforspecialneeds.com. Her essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, East Bay Monthly, The Autism Advocate, on cnn.com and NPR Perspectives. Laura speaks regularly for schools and disability groups and lives in Lafayette, California with her husband, Peter, and her three sons.