By Christine Denise
Autism Mom and Contributing Writer for As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments
“I can’t say I understand, but I can say I can relate.”
When I heard those words from a caseworker reviewing our son’s application for government aid, I had a hard time listening to the rest of what he had to say.
I stopped him as he was moving on quickly to explain the multiple layers of bureaucracy involved in the application process, and asked him to repeat what he just said.
“I can’t say I understand, but I can say I can relate,” he repeated.
“How, how can you relate?” I asked, getting annoyed that he could possibly relate to the mounting frustration we were having at the moment learning about how much longer we were going to have to wait for a response on our application.
“Because my son has autism,” he said.
The Right Words at the Right Time
I felt completely disarmed and relieved.
He told us his reason for going into the job he had was due to his own family’s journey navigating all of the government red tape that’s out there for families just trying to get aid for their special needs loved ones and children.
The line also resonated with me because it was one of the most genuine phrases I had ever heard from someone when so often people struggle to find the right things to say.
I, too, am one of those people.
I still struggle with what to say to fellow parents of children with autism, and even parents of neurotypical children.
Knowing What to Say Doesn’t Always Come Easily
The phrase is so genuine because every child with autism is unique.
It’s never the same from one child or person to the next.
Sure, there are similar characteristics and lots of generalities.
But how they manifest in each person are so different.
For example, many kiddos with autism struggle with sensory issues.
For my son, that means he has a compulsion to chew anything around his neck.
So, shirt collars don’t last very long.
We’ve adapted by having him wear necklaces made for teething toddlers.
Now, chewable necklaces are easy to come by online.
For others, sensory issues can make loud noises or crowds impossible.
My son loves loud sounds.
He loves to feel the vibration of a stereo or even the speakers on his iPad.
If we could turn our stereo up to the max every day, he would love it.
He jumps for joy and flaps his hands when we play his favorite songs as loud as safely possible in our house.
Other children with autism prefer calm and quiet settings, and might have a sensory outburst if it’s not.
Our son loves to go up to complete strangers and hug them, try to sample their food or touch them.
He does not understand social cues of rejection when a person shies away from his unexpected gestures.
Other children with autism might prefer to isolate.
That’s why it’s still so hard for me to find the right words to say to another parent with a child with autism.
I don’t want to say I understand, because I might not.
My child might not present the same challenges or skills.
But I can relate.
Do you have questions about your child’s development? The team at As You Are provides useful autism screening and diagnostic evaluations for kids 16 months to 10 years old via telehealth appointments.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This is a sponsored blog post, but all opinions are my own.