Autism? More like bad parenting.

Boy standing on a lonely and dreary beach by Someone's Mum


I am a good parent. There, I said it.  Sometimes, admitting that you are actually doing a good job can be as hard as admitting you need help. Don’t get me wrong – I am not perfect. I have felt so exhausted that I have given in and handed over that cake, or turned on CBeebies.

But I have also followed a steep learning curve with parenting, especially when dealing with an autistic child. You know what? I am pretty damn good at dealing with my son. I can anticipate his reactions in a split second. I can work out which deviations from routine will completely overwhelm him, and which he can work through. I have reserves of patience far beyond what I thought possible. I am an expert on my children.

There are people who will watch my son and think I am a bad parent. I have heard someone express the opinion that Asperger Syndrome, and HFA, are ‘just an excuse for arseholes to behave like arseholes’. There are people, reading this now – yes, even you – who have seen situations similar to the ones I am about to describe and they have thought unkind and ungenerous thoughts.

‘That’s quite the scream. I wouldn’t stand for that. No child of mine would be making that noise in a public place – I’d march them straight out, so they knew on no uncertain terms that kind of behaviour isn’t acceptable.’

Now it’s time for you to admit it – you’ve had those thoughts. I know you have; I had them too – before. So I want you to imagine this…

You join the queue at a coffee shop and are confronted with a small boy flailing his arms and gritting his teeth. His mother is trying to hold him, stop him lashing out and hitting the class cabinet of glistening pastries. She whispers reassuringly –

“Sweetheart, I am so sorry. They don’t have a muffin. But you are still such a good boy, mummy is so proud. You can choose a different cake, I promise.”

The boy screams.

“Nooooo! Muffin! I wanted a chocolate muffin mummy!”

Spoiled brat, hey? It’s almost like a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.


An hour ago, my son was in a barber’s chair, sitting so, so quietly. He finds getting his hair cut very distressing. Any deviation from the routine or unexpected event is absolutely terrifying for him. I do not use that description lightly. Think about what that means for a second – absolutely terrifying.  But he has behaved impeccably; I am so proud. I promised him that if he was a good boy, he would have a chocolate muffin. He skips along, so happy and excited by my praise.

“Mummy! Mummy!” he shouts as he reaches for my hand, “I have been such a good boy! I can have a muffin!”

My heart breaks for him when, for the first time in memory, they do not have chocolate muffins; he thinks he has not been a good boy after all.

As you make your way through the aisles of clothing, you hear a boy screaming. You can’t help but search around to see what the commotion is. Finally, you see him, spread out on the floor. He is half sobbing, half screaming, kicking his legs violently as his mother tries frantically to scoop him up. As she does, his legs and arms hit her in the face and body. She ignores it and struggles to lift him. It is a huge effort to get him out of the shop; he is not small and those kicks and flaps are hurting her.

Wow. That’s pretty violent, right? I mean, he didn’t deliberately hit her but perhaps that child needs to know that those kinds of physical outbursts are not the way we behave?


Outside, on a bench, away from the stares, my son clings to me. Between sobs, I have finally worked out what I said that upset him so much that it was akin to physical pain. I said the hat had ‘The Cookie Monster’ on it. But the hat was covered in Cookie Monsters. For my gorgeous boy, mistakes, inconsistencies – they cannot just be shrugged away; they are a cigarette held to his skin until the relief of the correction comes. “Mummy, I was so sad. I was so sad because you said it wrong. It was wrong mummy!” he sobs. I stroke his hair. He is no longer flailing; he strokes my arm for comfort – my dear, loving, sweet boy.

“I know bubba. Mummy said it wrong. There were lots of Cookie Monsters. What a silly mummy, to make such a mistake.” His whole body relaxes in my arms.

And there are dozens of others I could describe –

Once, the sunshine made shifting shadows on the path and he was too scared to walk. After trying for an age try to calm, to persuade, I carried him, screaming, through the National Trust Gift Shop…

Once, he found a toy car park at the Children’s Centre, identical to the one at home, but with one horrifying difference – part of the spiral track was missing, forming a hole. Tormented by the other children sending cars down the track and into the abyss, he pushed them aside and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed…

Once, at a pizza restaurant, we forgot his special cup – the ONLY one he will drink from. And we could not make the screaming stop. He screamed and screamed and daddy ran back to the car, ran to the shops down the road to try to find an identical cup – but none could be found. The screaming only subsided after an hour, first turning to sobs, and then finally to whimpers.

I am not a bad parent. My son is not a naughty boy. He is sweet, honest, and affectionate.

And he suffers, every day, in ways that you – and even I – can barely begin to understand.

So if you see my boy in despair, if you read this and you still judge, still see bad parents and naughty children, when you have little idea what the reality is – well let’s just say it’s not my four year-old son who is the arsehole.

Linked with:

#bigpinklink with Louise at Pink Pear Bear


#KCACOLS with Franca from A Moment with Franca

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  1. 4
    Amy Treasure

    Tears stinging my eyes reading this Danielle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think you’re bloody marvellous. You have written this so beautifully and I salute you; for being an amazing mum, for understanding your son, for trying to change the way that people think. Thank you x

  2. 5
    Crystal Cabral

    Ohhhhhhhh myyy gosh!!! I literally was saying YES , YES and wanted to scream and cry because, 1, you are NOT alone, and 2. I know how you feel alllll too well. Being such a awesome mom with a child with autism makes it SO hard and nearly impossible to have a relationship, for me anyway. I am constantly attacked for “spoiling” my son, and “giving him his way” but no one has seen just how much progress and how DIFFICULT it is for my son to do something as SIMPLE as sitting for a hair cut, or not having school because it’s a federal holiday ( here in the U.S ). Explaining that he is NOT spoiled and I am NOT feeding “the monster” by giving into him because he appears to be ungrateful for the donut I got it, and he’s screaming because there are sprinkles on the donut when he used his words , or kept himself together at a time he would normally break down. Those are huge things in his life…not many understand, and I have found that not many even care. but we as mothers ( and some dads too! ) will always realize it and be EXPERTS on our childrens behaivors and challenges they face through life. So Thank you!

  3. 6

    When I saw the title I was sure I was going to read this and write you a firm, yet educational comment, but as I read I see the title can draw people in to read and see the point you are getting across. Very beautifully written. I experience this everyday with my son who is 4 and on the spectrum. I will share this blog, and hopefully people who need to learn a few things will actually read it and maybe understand a little better.. Great writing, very well put, well done.

  4. 9
    Bear and Cardigan

    I remember you writing about leaving his cup behind. It’s heartbreaking that everything is so difficult for him but I don’t judge. Not because I am perfect and I don’t have an autistic child but I do know how hard it is to be a parent. Most of us are trying to do our best, to raise and nurture our children.

  5. 10

    Been there done that do many times , my son is now 14 and we can still have this now along with self harming the constant I’m not good enough, he’s much stronger now the battles harder but still just the same . I was diagnosed with cancer last year you can imagine how that went down , but what I wanted to say was cancer for me is a breeze compared to Autisum , unless you live it you have no idea . Much love to you xxx

  6. 11

    I never ever judge any parent now – especially not when im just getting a glimpse of them in the park or shops. my son has ASD and we have had plenty of looks. Ive got to the stage where I dont care anymore but its tough to get used to. And yes, you are a great mum #kcacols

  7. 13
    Angie Watts

    Yes, yes, YES!!! I find that one of the hardest things for me is watching my kiddo fighting so hard against the NEED to do things he knows he’s not supposed to. Mostly it’s breaking things. Not because he’s destructive but because he likes the sound and the way it looks. We had a neighbor tell us we should move if we cant control him. My kiddo fights so hard every day to be a “good” boy & all the Judgey McJudgesters can take a flying leap! Thank you for sharing this!

  8. 16
    Anne Marshall

    Beautiful writing and very moving post. I hope for all the ignorant people judging, there are many more understanding and seeing a strong mother dealing with a challenging situation and admiring you. Xx #kcacols

  9. 17

    I will admit I had those thoughts before I became a parent, and possibly whilst I was still in the baby stages. But not anymore! I see things very differently now. Neither of my girls have autism so it isn’t an angle I fully understand but I know it makes things harder, tantrums more difficult to resolve, days harder to plan. The last thing you need is people calling these things excuses to be an arsehole, or labelling your child as naughty.

  10. 19
    Rachel George

    My teenage son criticises my parenting of his little brother all the time. It is so frustrating. Once he told me that if I ignored Adam he would stop struggling with things. I asked if maybe he thought Adam would start walking if I took his wheelchair away!

    It is really hard for people to understand sometimes but it is often harder to deal with comments then it is to manage whatever situation is happening. #bigpinklink

  11. 20
    Ursula (AKA Mumbelievable)

    So moving. My son has SPD and so much of this resonates with me. His suffering is my biggest and most profound pain, and I spend my days doing everything I can to minimise the effects the world has on him. Thank you for these beautiful words of solidarity. X

  12. 21

    I love this post! It brought a tear to my eye just thinking about what we have to deal with but we just get on with it. I even find myself saying to people, it’s not my parenting…just look at my other kids, they are well behaved. How awful is that? We should not be made to feel guilty because our children are struggling with life, people should appreciate just how awesome we autism parents are. xx

  13. 22
    Alex Fihema

    It’s amazing to read stories like these, it gives such an insight into autism.
    And yes, before children I had the same thoughts, but the more I read and the more I learn from my children, the more I understand #KCACOLS

  14. 24
    Agent Spitback

    It is true that it is easy to judge if you don’t know the context of the situation and too many of us do it readily and too easily. I am glad you wrote this post and shared this with #bigpinklink

  15. 25

    A beautiful post. Yes, people don’t understand because they never see the whole story, do they? I’m an adult with Aspergers, and while I’ve ‘grown up’ (whatever that is), I still have moments like this, when something, that to others seems so infinitely small, will set me off. While I’ve learned various coping strategies, and rarely get to the point of rage anymore, I still die inside, like a thousand knives have been thrust into me. Outsiders may wonder, “What’s the big deal?” But it is a big deal for me. It’s always a big deal for me.

  16. 26

    No. I have not judged as you suggest I might have. I am on the spectrum and have 2 boys on the spectrum. I have always understood. I grew up with those same feelings in every cell. I just didn’t have a mum (or dad) like you. So, yes, some of us inherently get it. I am the same woman who asks if I can get you something to eat or drink, or offers you my chair. Or pushes people away to get you outside.

    • 27
      Someone's Mum

      That’s wonderful- and thank you. My post was worded to grab the attention of the majority who don’t get it though. It was not meant to imply any judgement on those who do. Thanks for reading.

  17. 28
    Edel Abberton

    Fantastic post.who captured so eloquently all the pain we feel for our kids on the spectrum because someone takes a view on their behaviour in that split second as who they are as a person, judges them unfairly and our ability to parent our child/children.When they don’t see the little triumphs and all our wonderful kids go through each day without complaint. They cope with so much in a world who rather they conform and not be who they are , rather than facing that a person who is different needs to be supported loved and accepted for who they are, and valued for that difference to bring forth the beautiful colours , light and prospective they bring to everyone. Difference is diversity , it makes life truly lived

  18. 29

    I am on ‘the spectrum’ as it were. as are my mum and dad but most severely was my brother who passed away on the 27th Oct 2011. Aged 30, 7 days before his 31st birthday.

    I just want to say that i personaly never cared or gave the small minded neanderthals who have no idea what’s going on outside there own little cloudy bubble of ignorance the satisfaction. One of these reasons is because for all we see as the handholders of those beautiful ‘disturbers of the peace’ pales into insignificance when we compare it to the frustration and hurt that ones such as my brother suffered every time he couldn’t cope with overwhelming situations or the things we take for granted like wanting to marry the girl at college! And even just ever day life. And as for understanding. I don’t think any of us ever can Fully understand, just like the man with one eye doesn’t know how it feels to be blind…

    Please dont take offence These are just my thoughts. Quite raw and off the cuff

  19. 31

    As I read the muffin story I couldn’t help but think back to a similar incident, I recently had to contend with a group of judgemental strangers at the local country park cafe when my son had a meltdown upon dicovering they no longer had a slush puppy machine, I had promised him good behaviour would result in a slushy, and the missing machine was a hammer blow to him that he could not cope with, as he started screaming and refusing to move they all just stood there tutting and shaking there heads while I tried to calm him, the only solution I had open to me was to bodily lift him put him in the car and drive 6 miles to a local petrol station that had a slushy machine. For the next 3 days he talked about nothing other than the fact that the cafe no longer had the machine, to others the loss of that machine is nothing, to him the natural order of the universe was turned on it’s head.

  20. 32
    Jennie Irving

    How beautifully expressed. I have been in your shoes many times with three of my four kids who have autism. Having lived with it for over 16 years now, though, I can see that there is an awareness in the community that did not exist when our first child was diagnosed, and a slow understanding of some of the common elements of ASD. Yes, it is slow, and there are many misunderstandings and judgements still being made. But pieces like yours help to raise awareness. Thank you for your eloquence.

  21. 33

    We are parents to a 23 year old autistic young girl and not a day passes by when we are not proud of her. She has her moments but then who doesn’t? Her love, her selflessness, her patience, her honesty are characteristics that we cherish in our daughter. She is a gift from God, one who blesses our life everyday by her presence.
    Jaspal and Aarti

  22. 34

    Lovely post and very well explained/written. Touched many deep nerves by describing very close the relationships with my 3 little ones and the common misunderstandings between ‘spoilt’ and ‘terrified/distraught’

  23. 35

    Oh mama. I absolutely love this. So raw, so open and true. Absolutely and beautifully honest. Posts like this are so NECESSARY to get through to the people who just don’t understand. I will admit, I’m definitely guilty of judging other parents. It’s like it’s a reflex or something. But, then I’ve started asking myself what I would want in her situation. Sometimes, it can mean the world to stop and just remind that mom that “you’re doing a good job.” Thank you for sharing! <3 #KCACOLS

  24. 38
    Allyson Greene

    Amazing post, one so many people need to read. It is so easy to judge in a moment with almost no information, and so many people do it, I am sure I have. And I am sorry, on behalf of me and every other Mom, Parent, or random stranger who has shot you that look, you are a GOOD MOM, and he is a GOOD BOY, don’t ever let anyone take that truth from you #KCACOLS

  25. 39

    Hi Danielle, if only the world were a more tolerant and less judgmental place! My son has spent his life being judged and labeled by ignorant people. there was a point when I was accused by members of my family of mollycoddling my son, which was why he was like he was. After years of looking for answers, it turned out my son has Aspergers with what I call excess baggage.

    All parents have enough on their plates without having to deal with judgemental ignoranuses. And I have been known to offer a week in my shoes to people who think they know, but really know nothing.

    Unfortunately, the judging will go on, but know that you are not alone!


  26. 41
    Mudpie Fridays

    This post has brought a tear to my eye. I think you are amazing parent, to understand and nurture your little boy. I’m first to admit I don’t have a clue when it comes to autism but always find your posts inspiring and I am sure they help a lot of people. Stopping by from #BigPinkLink xx

  27. 42

    Yeah, I see the looks, the side glances. I was buying a new case for my iPhone but it was mislabeled on the shelf. I was hold/hug/restraining my son so he wouldn’t bolt, and trying to explain that I thought the case was wrong and wouldn’t fit. My son was struggling, and it looks like i’m being a horribly aggressive parent, and she was looking at me with obvious disapproval. What she didn’t know is my son is a bolter, and he’s getting fast. If I let go of him he’s off running away from me. He won’t just stand and wait beside me. I ignored her judging facial expressions, but I do get that heavy “people just don’t understand me and my son” feeling. That feeling sucks. I know they are either thinking I’M a bad father or my son is a little brat. My son is a very gentle loving boy, and I do my very best.

  28. 43
    Tina Medlock

    Understand this completely in my son’s very literal world. When I have said we are going somewhere or doing something and then it hasn’t happened. I have been that parent who has judged and sure I still do. I try and not be take any notice of those around me and what they think but it is difficult. #SpectrumSunday

  29. 44
    Kelly K

    I’m sure I used to be judgey way back when. Now I know oh so differently! I always try to accept there may be a good reason for a child’s behaviour and that they’re not just being a brat. After all, it’s usually my child! #spectrumsunday

  30. 48
    Lady Nym

    You’re an amazing mum. Once upon a time I probably would have raised an eyebrow but I’m infinitely less judgmental of other parents and other people in general since having my autistic boys.

    I remember trying to drag Tyger out of a pet shop when he’d spotted a Henry Hoover in a cupboard out the back. I’m sure other people would have thought he was some ‘naughty’ child who wanted to run around in the staff-only areas of the shop but Henry Hoover was his special interest at the time. Seeing that vacuum cleaner there was like seeing Santa for most kids. He was desperate to touch it.


  31. 49
    Tina Jayne

    Like many others who have read this and agreed, those words could have come from me, because I too have an Autistic son and face those same challenges daily. And I am so grateful for the many positive comments from people who don’t have Autism in their lives, that they can empathise and appreciate why it’s so different for us. I just want to add something that you may have previously addressed, but for those of you reading this that don’t have an Autistic child, even if you appreciate the day to day difficulties we face, consider this also: that while we are dealing with the unpredictable meltdowns, the disapproving stares, the heartbreak of seeing our child in distress, we are also constantly fearful and anxious about their future, what will become of them as they age, who will look after them when we, their parents, are dead? For me that is the most distressing, heartbreaking aspect of my child’s condition, and it haunts me every minute of every day. So that’s my baseline, that’s my constant state of mind, and then I love and try to manage my beloved boy through these daily traumas, when he lashes out at me through frustration and then beats himself up with remorse….and then I am faced with the judgemental looks, snipey comments and general lack of understanding. Even from my own family. Well you know what? I am climbing mountains every day that most people cannot even imagine. I am Superwoman. But I don’t feel like Superwoman when I’m on my knees in a supermarket aisle trying to contain my distressed child and beating myself up about the red marks I’ve caused on his arms whilst trying to stop him hurting himself. Then, I feel like the terrible parent people imagine me to be. But I’m not, so please, show a little empathy and dont be so quick to judge.

  32. 52
    Alice Soule

    Made me feel sad reading this as I’ve been that “bad parent” so many times. Had someone suggest that perhaps my son just needs some love from a very helpful lady in a supermarket plus the endless looks and tutts. Eurgh how dare they?!

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