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.