Thursday, March 20, 2014

Autism Madlibs

I originally wrote this for Childswork last year, but wanted to share it again over here since it's not time-sensitive or anything and, MADLIBS!

As a parent of an autistic child, some time after diagnosis, but before you actually know ANYTHING about autism, you will undergo a slow realization period, wherein you will become inundated with facts and figures, theories, stories and various and sundry apocrypha. During that immersive discovery period, various autism parenting cliches will surface and you will briefly (or maybe even not so briefly) latch onto them as they, at that moment seem to nail your experience. You’ll find yourself nodding your head in solidarity with these sentiments like a jilted lover listening to a country music station.

These cliches are important at first, if for no other reason than to help you frame your child’s experience through someone else’s words, someone who seems more travel-worn and more autism-worldly than perhaps you feel. They make you feel like “someone gets me!” and that’s great, especially at first. But ultimately, as you start your unique journey parenting an autistic child, you find that each cliche eventually collapses under the accumulated weight of the arguments against it; whatever its merits, it also has its deficits, and although it helped frame your world for a time, it framed it incompletely. Except the cliches don’t. go. away. Some are tender and touching and more or less true. Some are broad and general and definitive and somewhat apply, but none of them are particularly ‘helpful’ in any practical sense, and at some point you’ve got to stop reading so many blogs and go raise your kids or go live your life. (But don’t stop reading this blog. Always read this blog.)

Every day someone is asking you if you’ve read the marvelous essay that compares your journey, or your son or daughter’s journey to an unplanned trip to some tulip filled flood plain. Or whether you’ve seen Rain Man. Or if your child can calculate pi to the 100th decimal. Or whether you’ve tried sporn flushing to cure his ‘awful affliction’. And so you trot out the cliches. And the more you trot them out, the more they make you cringe, but perhaps you cringe less than you might if you had to explain it all in your own freshly-minted words every time. Unless…

Try Autism Madlibs. You fill in a noun, adjective or verb, as requested, then plug them into some old, tried and true autism cliches to spring on your friends and family. It’s fun for you, and …AND instructive. It’s useful brain calisthenics to attempt to draw a parallel between your experience and a bunch of random parts of speech. It will amuse you, instruct you, and bamboozle your friends. Win. Win. Win.

Let’s get started. First you need to print out the mad lib sheet. Click the picture below, print it out, and fill in the blanks. Once this is complete you can insert them into some common autism cliches that I’ll supply at the end of the post. If you print the whole post out it won’t really work, because you’ll see the expressions and that’s cheating.

autism mad lib
the list…print it out and fill in the blanks
Did you get them all filled in? If you haven’t done a mad lib, now you read the blanks with the parts of speech you supplied in the sentences previded below out loud. Hilarity ensues.

blank autism madlib
Insert the parts into this here handy blank sheet and VOILA! Pithy new cliches everyone can easily understand!  I’ve taken the liberty of filling out a couple of the cliches myself, so that you can see how this is supposed to work.  I randomly picked numbers 3 and 4…

Autism is a pretzel.

Autism is like a purple giraffe to Cairo.

The benefit to you is a straight-faced delivery of either of these AND as much thought as you can put into the explanation. Remember…this is mental weight lifting for you. Entertainment, Betterment. Win, win.

3. Why yes, Ted, that’s exactly what I said, parenting a child with autism is a pretzel. You see…the twists and turns of the discovery process of diagnosis and all the visits to specialist had us tied in knots. I can’t MENTION the sort of salty language that I used during those trying times, it left me…crunchy, hardened from the experience. Autism is a pretzel. A hard crunchy salt covered pretzel twist.

And if Ted says, “But what about warm soft pretzels?”
Then you give Ted a long-suffering stare and say, “Ted, you don’t know anything about autism, do you? Autism is nothing like warm, soft pretzels.”

Autism is like a purple giraffe to Cairo
4. Well, Aunt Margaret, what’s the absolute last thing you’d take to Cairo? A giraffe, right? And that’s how unexpected this all was. And it’s a war zone, make no mistake. Much like Cairo, there are constant battles to be fought and treaties to be negotiated with the school, and with day care, and the bruises as we worked through Billy’s biting/slapping issues…well that’s the purple you see on the giraffe. See? It’s right there.

And if Aunt Margaret replies, “Well what about Northern Ireland? That’s sort of a war zone too?”

Well then you look at Aunt Margaret with all the scorn you can muster and say, “They speak English in Northern Ireland…Billy is non-verbal…we have to learn to communicate with him in different ways. Haven’t you been listening?? Northern Ireland is nothing like parenting an autistic child.”

Under the frivolity is a simple truth (and ironically, another cliche): your journey parenting your autistic child is unique and cliche-defying. And the result of the simple, frivolous brain exercise of forcing yourself to frame your own experience in random terms such that they make sense to you is something that no two people will duplicate. There is no “right answer”. There is no cliche powerful enough to encompass all our complexities and challenges.

Nevertheless, have fun, and mad lib responsibly…make sure you leave your favorite (along with your explanation) in the comments!

If you’re unfamiliar with the cliches from which I derived the mad lib, see below. They all have something to offer, outright blunt obvious truth…one person’s philosophy…or deep thoughts on the meaning of it all.

1. If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.
2. Real autism isn’t like Rain Man.
3. Autism is a puzzle
4. Autism is like an unplanned trip to Holland
5. There is no cure for Autism. There is only acceptance.
6. Autism is different, not less.
7. Autism doesn’t define my child.
8. Your autism is not like my child’s autism.
9. Having autism is like living on the wrong planet
10. Autism is a blessing in disguise.


  1. Wow. I never realized how the reading of the blogs and the cliches were such in integral part of the grief and acceptance process until this post. It is easy to compartmentalize it as "information gathering for the benefit of my child and my family" but it is also "soothing my aching heart and desperate mind." Well done. I will continue to read *this* blog. :-)