Parents – Explanations vs Apologies

All to often, we’ve been in the situation where our child is in public and totally at random we find ourselves in the middle of a meltdown, an non responsive zombie or just a very bizarre act that people just see as weird.

Our first response is to look around, see who’s looking at us… are they saying anything to the person next to them? Are they obviously thinking something we’ve heard before?

First thing we can think to say is… now say it with me “I’m sorry, my child has Autism”.

Are you really sorry? I’m not. I have nothing to be sorry for. In fact, my child has done nothing wrong. All children do these things, mine just happens to do it more often than most but you know what? They don’t know that. They’re witnessing it for the first time. And they’re making judgments. No, my child has done nothing wrong. They have. Shame on them for passing judgments without all the information.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with explaining yourself… “my child has Autism, he’s just really overloaded by all the sights and sounds in here. He doesn’t mean to bother you.”

See the difference there?

I can assure you, with almost 100% certainty, that the person you’re talking to will get far more from that than an empty apology. They don’t know what Autism really is, they don’t know you or your child. But your tone does come across, whether you know it or not. You’ve apologized a million times and you’ve never really meant it, not really. You’ve done nothing wrong, neither did your child. And that person will walk away, still judging you and and still judging your child and you’ll finish what you’re doing and go home feeling angry, defeated… depressed.

Do not apologize for what you do not have to apologize for. Instead, explain what is happening and why. It doesn’t take long. And in so doing, you’re raising awareness, you’re not faking a smile behind anger and tears.

We’ve all been there, we’ll all be there again. There’s no need to feel bad, there’s no need to feel mad. Either they get an explanation or they don’t deserve one but never ever do they deserve an apology when you’ve done nothing wrong.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

, ,

4 Responses to Parents – Explanations vs Apologies

  1. outoutout September 22, 2010 at 8:00 pm #


    I will never apologise for being autistic (or for my children being autistic), but I will apologise if I have done something to hurt someone else. If my children melt down and throw objects at other people, I’ll apologise for that. If I have a meltdown of my own and say nasty things, of course I’ll apologise for that. And I’ll mean it. Certain behaviours may be caused by autism, but autism is never an excuse to be rude or hurt others.

    As for ‘explaining’ to strangers, I think it really depends on the situation. I only tell people if I think it might help. But sometimes, it only fuels the fire. For example..

    Me: “My son is autistic.”
    Strange person: “Then maybe you shouldn’t take him out!”
    Me: “WTF…”

    Just my 2c, FWIW.

    • Stuart Duncan September 23, 2010 at 11:38 am #

      That’s good to hear, and yeah, I don’t mean for the times when they might hit someone or break something… just those random screaming fits where they want something or are just really upset.

      I haven’t had anyone be sold bold as to tell me “then maybe you shouldn’t take him out” but if they did… ahem.. yeah, I might just have a few choice words to say in response, far beyond a rational explanation! LOL

  2. Andrew September 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    I have apologized to people when my son has disturbed them or upset their children. Generally, most people have understood or have shown some empathy, and in some cases asked me what they could do to help me.

    However, I have done this in the way that any parent would, autism or not.

    I don’t apologize for my son being autistic, and I treat public meltdowns or incidents at school as a way to educate people about autism and to help them exercise their empathy.

    I have heard parents at the park mutter under their breath about how “annoying that kid is” in reference to my son. I used to get upset at this, but now I turn it around on them and explain why he might be behaving in a way that is upsetting to them.

    I learned this through Marshall B. Rosenberg’s techniques of Non Violent Communication.

    By asking them to have some empathy I have been able to diffuse many tense situations and change some people’s attitudes.

    If they still don’t get it (like a couple who sat behind me on a plane recently), then WTF indeed. Hey, I told them to take the opportunity to move seats, but they would not.


  1. “My son has autism. What’s your excuse for acting like that?” « Autism Home Rescue - October 19, 2010

    […] the seas, coping, educating, the rest of the world I recently read a post by Stuart Duncan about apologies vs. explanations which started me thinking about how I react to people in public when my child is present, and how […]

Leave a Reply