Our Tips for Speaking to Your Autistic Child about Racism

In many Black and PoC families, conversations about race are necessary and frequent.  In white families, recent events are forcing parents to confront racial issues for the first time, often with no firsthand reference to spark discussion.

However difficult, conversations about racism in white households are crucial, especially for kids with special needs.  Parents can help teach multi-faceted, abstract lessons that may be less accessible for special-needs children in the real world.  Even if parents don’t have all the answers themselves, getting the conversation started will help children develop social awareness and empathy.

Set aside time to talk about race and racism as a family.

Whether we see it or not, our kids are always learning from the world around them.  They notice differences and they form opinions about those differences.  Without proper intervention, kids may attempt to avoid race by erasing it altogether: if everyone is the same, and if race isn’t important, then racism is just a thing of the past.  By color-blind logic, everyone is born with the same opportunities and anyone who experiences oppression deserves it.  

Before colorblindness sets in, parents should set aside certain blocks of time during the week to discuss race with their children.  How does race shape your child’s experiences?  How does race shape your local community?  Autistic children may need help contextualizing racism’s impact on their day-to-day life.

Get informed about race and racism.

The key to an effective discussion with your autistic child is confidence.  Before you get the conversation started, make sure you’ve equipped yourself with the right references.  Documentaries are a good place to start because they can cover in-depth topics quickly and accurately.  The Netflix film 13th is a great launch point: activists explain the American legacy of slavery and how it shapes our modern politics.  Take notes on lines that stand out to you, and from there, step into activist literature.  Books such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander can help bolster your knowledge base.

Follow Black activists and authors that inspire you on social media.  Use your voice to amplify their messages.  Social media is a great way to learn how progressive Black minds process current events.

Teach  your child how to fix a mistake.

Regardless of how much we prepare children for the world, their developing brains will still make mistakes.  Your at-home discussions should navigate potentially offensive language and situations: when we hurt someone’s feelings, how do we make it better?  Before we jump to defending ourselves, we have to take ownership of the hurt we’ve caused and listen to the person affected.  Tell your child to listen to other children’s concerns, and to apologize when someone says they feel offended.  Apologizing and learning for next time is the best that white children and adults can hope to do.  Remember that when we offend someone, we are probably speaking about something we ourselves have never experienced.

Talk to your child about what your family is doing to overcome racial biases.  Explain why conversations about race are so important and what you as a parent hope to achieve.

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