Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Going out

Going out to different places like the supermarket, parks and other people’s houses often raised difficulties for the parents we interviewed. Many children often have no visible sign of autism and if they behave unusually or have a tantrum when they are out people who do not know them may think they are badly behaved or spoiled. (See parents accounts of how they manage in ‘Strategies for going out’.)

Some parents found it very difficult to deal with other people’s responses towards their children. They often felt hurt by other people’s reactions and felt constantly judged when they went out. One mother, for example, was upset when other parents pulled their children away from her son in a shop as if he was ‘contagious’.

Some parents said their children were rarely or never invited to children’s parties. Very few children went to after school activities or classes for ballet or sports although a few parents tried to organise activities suitable for their children. One couple talked about how their son had been included in a martial arts class but the instructor asked them to remove him one day, when the owner of the club was coming to visit. This made them feel both angry and upset and they didn't take him back to the class.

Some parents with more than one child on the spectrum described practical difficulties in going out; it was harder to keep control of more than one child, especially if they ran off. It was also difficult because the children were often very different with different likes and dislikes.

Sensory issues
Some of the children found going to different places difficult because they could not cope with change, loud noises, different lights or too many people around (see 'Fears, anxieties, sensory issues and meltdowns’). Many children found shopping difficult and would go into ‘meltdown’ and lie on the floor, kicking and screaming.
Safety issues
Some of the difficulties in going out were related to worries about safety. Most of the children had little sense of road safety and some would run off or talk happily to people they did not know. One mother asked a policeman to tell her son to keep his seatbelt done up because he kept undoing it when they were in the car.

One mother had problems when her son told people they should not smoke: “He will give them a biological run down on why it is inappropriate.” (see ‘Communication; understandings').

Invisibility of autism
Many parents thought that some difficulties arose because autism “doesn’t show up”. As one mother said; “How does the outsider know that when she is doing this it is because of this?” Some parents thought that their children would be treated more kindly or with more understanding by members of the public if they were in a wheelchair or had Down Syndrome. Without a physical or outward sign of impairment, other people assumed that their children were badly behaved. Some parents also thought that people generally did not want to know because they found it so hard to comprehend; “If you are doing all sorts of strange things and saying things, it’s a bit too complex for people to even want to grasp hold of”.
One father commented; “These are all individuals that look apparently normal. It is the behaviour and the way they present themselves that is regarded as being odd. The other alternatives are the rest of the population become autistic and they don’t stand out at all and in some respects that might be a much better world”.

Visiting friends and relatives
Parents also talked about the difficulties in going to other people’s houses because their children might break something or be disruptive. One mother said her own house was “safe for other people with autistic kids to come and visit” because there was nothing lying around that could be destroyed. It was not just the problems that could crop up during an outing, but also the worry about an unexpected problem arising.

Going on holiday
Some of the children loved going on holiday.
Many parents found holidays stressful because of the different environment and the difficulty their children had coping with change. Some were determined to keep going on holiday. As one said, “You have got to try and gently do it, you know, get them out, get them doing things and keep on with it really”.
One couple's son had a huge tantrum when the plane they were on circled the runway and they had to wait to land. They came back more stressed than when they had left.

Going out raises various problems for parents that are related to the non-visibility of the children’s autism, the difficulty some of the children had with sensory issues and a need for order in their lives, and the attitudes of other people present. The ways in which parents tried to overcome these difficulties are discussed in ‘Strategies for going out’.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated November 2010.

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