Maintaining Dignity

Although we do not intend to be disrespectful, our words or actions occasionally step on the toes of other people. It would probably be a good idea for all of us to take a close look at our interactions with our friends with autism. Sometimes we need to make some adjustments in our conversations or in our actions so we can be certain we are treating every individual with respect and allowing them to maintain their dignity.

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Even if individuals with autism do not seem to care about how others treat them or if our friends do not seem to be aware of interactions with other people, we can take purposeful steps to make certain that all we do and say is respectful. Today we will address the topic of maintaining dignity in the areas of privacy and independence.

(1) Privacy. Without realizing the full consequences, we tend to talk about people with autism or other disabilities as if they were not present. We do not need to share their problems or challenging situations in public. We can maintain confidentiality and preserve privacy by consulting with other caregivers, family members, and professionals discreetly. Privacy is also an issue when our friends with autism need some help with toileting or dressing. It is inappropriate, for example, for us to say to a teen, “Let’s go change your diaper,” or “You’d better go to the bathroom now so you don’t have an accident later.” We can also help our friends with autism by teaching them from an early age to close the door to the bathroom when toileting or bathing and to change clothes behind a closed door.

(2) Independence. It is so much easier for us to manage the details of the daily lives of individuals with autism rather than waiting patiently for them to do so. But everyone likes to have SOME control over what happens each day. Rather than taking care of every detail, let your friend with autism make some choices. Depending on their level of functioning, they might be able to choose their clothing for the day, meals and snacks, free-time activities, family events, music, books, or movies. Help people gain (or regain) some measure of control over their lives by giving them choices when possible. We can demonstrate our respect for their viewpoint by giving the person with autism the time and the means to express their opinions and choices.

We welcome your thoughts and ideas on the topics of privacy and independence. Just send us a message at

Note to listeners and readers: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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