If you watch the news or read the papers/magazines, you have undoubtedly heard about autism.  Unfortunately, much of what you have heard is likely of the “doom-and-gloom” variety, telling you what a “terrible” and “devastating” thing it is to live with autism, how parents and educators have to “deal with” autistic children.

As the parent of a now 17 year old autistic son, first diagnosed when he was just over 2 years old, I can tell you that there are unique challenges to raising an autistic child.  There is no denying that.  But when it comes down to it, if you ask me, these challenges are different only in context, not in scope.  Every child presents challenges of one sort or another to their parents.

We all have a tendency to want our kids to be like us, a reflection of us.   And it is indeed possible to try to “make” your kid more like you through “early intervention.”   Consider the geek born to the jock, or the jock born to the geek.  Your kid likes to be outside playing sports – you make him come inside and read and study.  Your kid is a book-worm – drag him outside and make him learn how to shoot hoops whether he likes it or not.

The other option, of course, is to figure out what it is your child enjoys, what they are passionate about, and indulge that passion.  There is no doubt that for a parent that is not autistic him- or her-self this is a more daunting challenge than the geek-jock dilemma I mentioned.  But it is daunting only in that it is a challenge that fewer people have experience with, that there is not as large a knowledge base to refer to when trying to find your way.

As I’ve written about before, the key thing for a parent of an autistic child to remember is that parenting is parenting.

If you don’t already know someone with autism, you will eventually.   Chances are very good that you have a family member with autism, know someone who has an autistic family member, or that you know someone with autism themselves.  You may even be autistic .   How did you react when you found out?  How do you treat those people?  How do you think you would react if you discovered that your child has autism?

It is all too easy to treat people, especially kids, with autism as “autistic”.   The challenge is to remember to treat autistic people simply as people.  Their autism is just one aspect of who they are.

(For another autism dad’s thoughts on the subject – from the perspective of a conservative philosophy – check out Big White Hat’s post Neuroconservatism?)