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Explaining Racism to Your Child With Autism

February 8, 2021


The issue of racism has come strongly to the forefront of the news. More individuals are beginning to take a closer look at their own views surrounding issues associated with racism. Here are ten simple tips for explaining racism to your own child with autism:

Explaining Racism to Your Child with Autism

Don’t wait: Begin the conversation early

It is not necessary for you to wait for your child to approach you on the issue of race. The earlier you begin this conversation, the more he/she will be equipped to confront and understand racism. Beginning the conversation with your child earlier will allow him/her to develop a level of comfort and trust while discussing this topic with you. Some parents don’t want to burden their child with heavy discussions surrounding this issue. However, avoiding these conversations can only lead to misunderstandings on the part of your child with autism. It may also cause him/her to seek out others for information, and that information may not be the model you want your child to follow.

Examine your own bias

Before you can explain racism, you need to fully examine your own bias and privileges. Racist biases are learned over time. They are unfair and unacceptable. There may be times when a child with autism may become echolalic and repeat your words. Hearing your own comments repeated by your autistic child may cause you to further examine your own attitudes towards racism. Even if you are unaware of your negative viewpoints or stereotypes, your own bias will need to be examined and refined.

Don’t shy away from difficult conversations

Having open discussions with your child with autism will allow him/her to feel comfortable in your presence. This will help him/her deal with difficult conversations in a safe environment. Don’t limit your child by not exposing him/her to conversations surrounding race. Embrace these topics with your child. He/She may have questions about Black Lives Matter, the Holocaust, slavery in America, police brutality and race, etc. These are all important conversations to discuss with your child.

Developing empathy

Many children with autism struggle to understand others’ feelings. Don’t be surprised that your child may relate “racism” to his/her own autism. Many autistic children have experienced discrimination or bigoted comments. Allow your child to explore his/her own feelings about being discriminated against due to his/her autism. Many individuals with autism have had to deal with others’ stereotypical views of what people with autism are capable of doing in life. Using those negative experiences may allow your child to develop a sense of empathy for those of different races and the discrimination they often face.

Surround your child with resources

The internet is a wonderful resource many children with autism are comfortable utilizing. With a simple Google search, books available on race and diversity are just a click away for most children. The local library is also a great resource. Your child can work with the librarian to find books and movies on this topic. These are resources he/she can take home to read alone or with parents at bedtime. Such books could include:

  • Hair Like Mine by Latashia Perry (African American culture)
  • Quinito’s Neighborhood (El Vecindario de Quinito) by Ina Cumpiano (Hispanic culture)
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniels Tatum (African American culture)
  • When We Were Alone by David Robertson (Native American culture)
  • Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan (Asian culture)
  • Teach Your Dragon About Diversity by Steve Herman

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Embed fun into the conversation

Conversations about race can often be serious and overwhelming. However, you don’t have to just have conversations. There are other fun ways to educate your child with autism on diversity. Your child can learn how different cultures celebrate different holidays, what languages they use, or even different clothing they may wear. Introducing cooking into the equation is a great way to comfortably engage your child around the issue of race. He/She can learn how to cook different types of food and deal with the textures of those foods, as well as learn a little about each of the cultures that find these food a major staple in their diet.

Find local role models

There may be questions surrounding race and racism you are not able to answer. It is absolutely alright to not have all the answers for your child. In order to expose to your child the correct information, it may become your responsibility to find appropriate role models from in the community to interact with your child. Listening to their experiences can have a powerful impact on your own child. It can also develop and foster a stronger appreciation of various cultures.

Attend community cultural events

Keep informed on local cultural events occurring within your community. Taking your child to these events will expose him/her not only to fun, but also to excellent role models within the community. This will allow your child to ask questions and get possible answers to the thoughts he/she may be having.

Work with your child’s school

As a parent to an autistic child, it is important you work closely with his/her school to promote cultural events that support a positive viewpoint of different races. You should check with your school officials to see how they plan to handle events such as Black History Month, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Cinco De Mayo, etc. If they don’t plan to celebrate such occasions, offer to join or form a committee to sponsor an event your child with autism can participate in and benefit from.

Report situations of racism

Once your child begins to better understand racism, he/she might develop a sense of empathy surrounding this issue. However, when observing or witnessing acts of racism, he/she may not know how to respond. It will be important for you to review with your child what to do when he/she witnesses discrimination. You can provide your child with a list of trusted adults to report such incidents to. These individuals may include: his/her regular education teacher, school counselor, school principal, special education teacher, parents, or siblings. He/She needs to understand he/she will never get in trouble for reporting an act of racism.

This article was featured in Issue 113 – Transitioning to Adulthood

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