Best of: Kitty Genovese and The Bystander Effect

Say It Ain't So

PA Fair Share 3Today, Cathy shares a moment we will recognize. Maybe someone approached US when our kids were young? 

By Cathy Jameson

What do you do when you see a child and all the red flags are waving around them?  If it’s a stranger’s child, do you start a conversation?  If you know the person, do you take them aside and say, “Hey, I need to talk to you.  I don’t know if you are aware, but some of the things your child does isn’t… typical.  I can share more if you’d like.”  

Do you take on that role, or do you hope that mom or dad know and have already set up an appointment with their provider? 

I’ve run into that situation several times over the years.  Depending on where I am, or who I’m with, I will say something. I don’t say anything rude but will weave some of our experience into our conversations.  “Yeah, we had no idea what caused my son to begin having delays.  He was typical until he wasn’t But then, I started to really look at things…what we were eating, drinking…what was in our older house that we’d started to renovate… and even what medicines we were giving him.”  

I don’t blurt out “Hey, it was the vaccines!”  

But I do my best to create a natural conversation with back-and-forth sharing.  If it’s the right time to share information, I drop hints, I mention names, I plant a seed.  Most of the time I walk away from the conversation from a young mom or dad thanking me for sharing what I know.  

They all have a similar response, “Wow, and thanks.”  

Every now and then, what I share makes no impact.  It’s not an off-the-cuff response I get after being completely honest about my child’s health timeline with that stoic person.  But it sometimes feels like a “sucks to be you” kind of response, and they go on their merry way.  It’s happened only once or twice that I get a completely different response from a young parent – none at all.  The sad part is that their child truly is displaying tell-tale signs of a delay.  It’s never my place to diagnose, and I can’t say that it is an autism specific-delay I’m witnessing.  

But something appears off.  

Do I risk saying something?  Do I name every red flag that’s waving right in front of their face?  Do I offer more of our story, resources, tips, and reading material?  Or do I hope for the best?  With a stranger, yes, I might hope for the best.  With someone who is more than an acquaintance, I have crossed the line and been brutally honest.  One time, a mom thanked me profusely.  Another time, I was met with silence.  That parent wasn’t ready to hear what I had to say.  As much as I wanted so badly for them to follow through with what I thought was sage advice, they didn’t.  

I remember doing that myself.  

But that mom who planted that one seed stayed with me long after her heart-to-heart conversation.  It took guts for her to approach me and to say what she needed to say to me.  I’ll never forget that.  I just hope the parents I’ve tried to talk to don’t forget every word I’ve said.  It’s hard to admit something is off, but I’ll hope for the best for them.  I’ll always hope that other people’s children can avoid what my child did not.

Got any tips to talk to parents who are not ready to have this sort of convo? What worked?  What didn’t?  Consider sharing what you’ve done in the past in a comment below.  

Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.  


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Gerardo Martinez

Always a tough situation. When my son was about 2 and a half years old, it was a day care worker at the local YMCA who told us your son maybe autistic, because she had a granddaughter who had autism and had similar traits as our son. It was another 15 months later til our son could be officially be labeled as autistic by the doctors in whitecoats, who basically said best you can do for him is OT and speech, that is all. So I did apprecitate the lady from the YMCA. My wife and I were very open to the information from her. Almost overnight something happened to our thriving beautifull young son. Anyway, thank you for the infomrative post. Blessings to all!


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