Should you never say 'no' to an autistic?

Should you never say 'no' to an autistic?

A student once asked me this after I gave a talk to some grannies that visited & were entertained each week by the VSU (voluntary service) students at their school. I was a bit flummoxed at the time & babbled some vague reply.

One thing to point out is that autistics, just like everyone else, have their own individual personalities & let's face it, certain personality types, all toddlers & most teens do not like being told 'no' either!

It really got me thinking though & what a missed opportunity. Here was a teenage boy genuinely interested to learn how to engage with autistics better but fearful of the consequences if he upset them or said 'no' to something, & I didn't help properly, argh.

First off, you absolutely can say 'no' to autistic people & yes, it's ok to feel a bit nervous about it. I feel stressed having to say 'no' to my own autistic child (Henry age 8) sometimes, especially if it's a change of plan or something he isn't expecting because yes, it can upset him & yes, it's impossible to predict his reactions sometimes. I try to stay positive, reassure myself he can learn to accept these situations because the world he lives in is not perfect & things don't always go to plan.

Autistics tend to like routines & have their expectations set & met. It doesn't mean they cannot cope with change or the unexpected though, it's just much harder & occasionally too much for them when you consider everything they already have to deal with on a daily basis in our crazy 'say what we don't mean & mean what we don't say' world. And that's just the verbal! So, they will be ok, you or I will be safe, the difficulty for them (on occasion) in accepting it, will pass & they will recover.


Don't forget, there are many ways of saying 'no' without using the word 'no' too. Autistics are so wonderfully pure & if there is a genuine, sensible, valid, truthful reason they will almost be pleased to accept it.

For example (v random), an autistic person becomes intensely interested in errr koala bears & wants to get one, must have one, needs one, feels passionate about it & will no doubt have researched all the facts knowing exactly where he/she can get one from. Obviously the family are not going to be buying a koala bear & instead of saying no, suggestions or thoughts out loud that whilst it sounds like a great idea koalas need a certain climate, a certain environment, a certain diet & tick, tick, tick our two-bed flat on the 4th floor in SW London, or wherever it is, is not ideal nor logical nor practical. They will come to that conclusion themselves.

Things become a tad more challenging when an autistic child must have the entire pack of chorizo slices instead of just a few or must take their top off in the shopping center, or must have the window open on the M25...Here's the thing, distractions & bribes don't work like they do with other children. These are some of the really tough times for autistics & their carers. So stressful & anxiety-provoking, exhausting, draining & there have been so many of these for me. But, they do pass.

In hindsight, I wish I had simply stopped talking (attempting to reason with & soothe in my own neuro-typical way). If you happen to witness it in public please simply ask the parent/carer if you can help with either a) a bottle of water (meltdowns are physically draining for the autistic) or snack b) a blanket or coat (to block out the sensory around them & to comfort c) create a human shield so that passers-by don't stare & comment making it so much harder to deal with. If you're too shy to ask, simply walk on by, make no eye contact, be kind, do not judge & if anything smile like you're thinking 'you got this', no pitying, please. Thanks so much.




  • Tamsin

    I love this blog. It’s always good to have logical, practical advise on how to approach situations such as the example you give above. And hell yeah, it’s hard enough to say ‘no’ to any kid who is fixated on wanting something they shouldn’t or can’t have!! Parenting… not for the bloody faint-hearted!

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