Why Your Autistic Kid Shoots Down Your Attempts To Help

Today it’s time for some real talk for parents of autistic kids. 

I know – because I lived the child’s side of the experience – that there are times when your autistic child asks for help and you offer very reasonable solutions, only to have your kid shoot down every single one.  I’m sure that this frustrates you as a parent and maybe you start to wonder if your kid is just being difficult on purpose.  I can assure you that it’s just as frustrating for your child and they may wonder if you’re being dismissive or giving up on them.

So, the million dollar question: why does your autistic kid shoot down all your attempts to help?

It’s because you’re not helping.

Sorry, I’m autistic, I tend to be blunt. But it’s the truth.  We dismiss those “solutions” that we know will not work for us and we do it with typical autistic lack of diplomacy and tact, especially as kids before we’ve learned how to soften our language for other people’s comfort.

When I was a kid, my parents accused me of playing “Yes, but” all the time.  I would have a problem and ask for help, and then I would shoot down every solution they offered.  They got angry with me, while I was still actively looking to them for help and getting punished for it.  In retrospect, this was a total miscommunication.  My parents, although neither of them were neurotypical, thought they were, so they were still approaching things from an NT perspective.  Therefore, nothing they offered me was a workable solution for me, with my brain and my abilities and limitations.  

The simple truth is that, if you are NT and your child is ND, you live in fundamentally different realities.  This doesn’t make you a bad parent.  But it means that the rules of your reality are different from the rules of your child’s, and what works in your life often won’t work in theirs.  It’s almost as if the very laws of physics are different for us, what with the different ways we experience time, space, and sensations.

I know that when you’re offering option after option to your child, you think that you’re giving them every possible help.  You’re probably racking your brain looking for anything that could help them with their problem.  And you know that everything you’re saying would be a fine answer to their issue.

In your world.

But autistic kids live in their brains and in their bodies and in their worlds, and they know, almost instinctively, what will or won’t work for them.  But they don’t understand the fact that you live in different realities, either.  So to them, it feels like you’re spouting platitudes at them or ignoring their pain at best and invalidating or mocking them by giving purposely useless advice at worst.

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend, lamenting the fact that I’m not good at taking care of myself as far as cooking, cleaning, etc. while I have to work full-time and the work is pushing me toward burnout anyway, and living alone, I was beginning to get quite scared and depressed about my future sometimes.

Trying his best to be supportive, he told me that he knew how it felt to be afraid of being alone.  But he is a fully abled person who is completely capable of taking care of himself on his own, whereas I’m living with multiple disabilities, watching my ability to work slip away by the day, and having trouble taking care of myself outside of work already.

I finally had to tell him “stop trying to help – you’re not good at it” and then I had to explain that his fear of being alone as a fully abled person is a whole different beast than my fear of not being able to survive alone as a disabled person.  Our realities have fundamentally different laws.

I tell this story to make this point: I was 39 years old before I figured out how to explain to people that they weren’t helping me by offering me solutions that only work in an NT life.

Children do not know how to explain that your proffered solutions are impractical in their reality.  They’re kids.  They don’t understand yet that your brain works differently than theirs.  They don’t realize that you’re truly trying your best to help. 

I’m not saying you have to find a way to read your child’s mind.  I’m only saying that, when your autistic child keeps torpedoing your advice, first you should acknowledge that they’re not doing it to piss you off, and then maybe you should try to think about their problem from their point of view instead of your own. 

If your autistic kid just keeps telling you “no” or “that won’t work”, they don’t know how to tell you why.  They’re not playing “Yes, but”.  They do want your help.  And if you get mad at them for not accepting your solutions, they feel invalidated and invisible.  They might begin to think that there is no help, and no child deserves to feel like that.

Try asking your kid what they think would help.  If they don’t know, ask them to imagine what the best outcome would look like – if you could wave a magic wand and make it perfect.  Maybe that would mean they never have to see their school bully again, or a particular teacher never says anything mean to them again, or they never have to read in front of the class, or they don’t have to wear uncomfortable clothes, whatever the best thing looks like to them.  And then help them figure out ways to make that happen.

If you’ve been telling your child to ignore the bully (which never works, by the way), or to “just do what the teacher says so she won’t get mad at you”, or to practice reading aloud at home, you’re not helping them solve the problems of being bullied, being targeted by a teacher for being “that kid”, or having panic attacks when called on to read in class.  Knowing what your child’s “best outcome” would be helps you understand what the actual problem is, rather than what you might assume it is.

Working backwards from the ideal can also be a great teachable moment for your child.  Lots of us have trouble figuring out where to start to make something happen, so helping them work backwards from what they want can help them learn where to start in future.

Your autistic kid does not want to make you mad.  Just like you don’t want them to feel like you don’t care about them.  Remembering that they live in a different reality to yours will make it easier to help them when they need it.

Two sullen-looking children outdoors looking away from the camera to the left. White and blue text on a purple background reads "Why Your Autistic Kid Shoots Down Your Attempts to Help"

Did you get accused of playing “yes, but” or not really wanting help when you were a kid?  When did you learn to explain that other people’s solutions didn’t work for you?  Got any tips to share on communicating between ND child and NT parents? 

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