How do I explain gender identities to autistic children? Part 1

Updated: Feb 10

My 9-year-old son is obsessed with a classmate who uses the pronoun they/their/them. He keeps asking the child "are you a boy or girl?" all day and every day and he refuses to use the proper pronoun. How do I get through to him to at least stop asking?

From the child's perspective

Everyone wants belonging and connection with other humans.


Let's imagine: one day, he learned super interesting and novel information about another child. The first time he asked "are you boy or girl?", I imagine that the other child stopped, paused for a moment to manage the emotion and discomfort that question elicited, before answering that question slowly and carefully. I bet our kiddo felt like he just won the lottery. Someone slowed down for him, oozed emotion towards him, and gave him the time of day. He had a conversation about something important to another person! He did it! Mom did you see that?! Everyone always told me to find out about what was important to another person and talk about that. I did it!


It would be super confusing to tell our child that he shouldn't talk about this specific topic. Our child is going to think that us adults are snake oil salesmen.


This is not a teaching moment. This is not the time to control our child's behaviour. But we shouldn't ignore the situation either.


Safety First:

It is very common for parents or caregivers to berate the offending child as a way of soothing the child they offended. Vice versa, if our child is at the receiving end of this offense, we are also very likely to get mad and want to rush to protect. That is the opposite of safety for both children. First, we need to help the children feel safe, but are we exuding safety from our every pore? Or are we feeling nervous and unsure ourselves? What can we do to make ourselves feel safe in this situation while keeping the children safe?


Before reacting to control and manage the situation, we adults need to pause for a moment, turn our thoughts inward, and regulate our own emotions and intensity. 92% of our communication is non-verbal. Even if we don't say or do anything, our bodies radiate all sorts of thoughts and emotions. (Think how professional poker players work).


This is an opportunity and not a crisis.