Broken Plates

Broken Plates

The other day, I was talking about judgment on Twitter. It became a discussion with numerous parents because it’s something that’s still a problem, even in 2019. I’ve written about that here and talked about it on my podcast. I was touched because everyone shared their personal and often ongoing experiences of being judged by people. While there’s comfort in knowing that I’m not alone, it’s heartbreaking to see others dealing with the same thing. This ultimately inspired me to write Broken Plates.

Every time I talk about this, someone chimes in that I put myself out there, so what do I expect? Let’s just head that off at the pass. Yes, I’m in a slightly different situation because I’m a public figure of sorts. I understand that putting myself out there, opens me up to judgment, ridicule, and a host of other unpleasantness. At the same time, just because I’m putting myself out there, doesn’t give anyone the right to cast judgment. While I have developed thicker skin over the years, it still sucks.

Broken Plates

Unfortunately, this also happens to almost every single autism or special needs parent at one point in time and often without provocation.


One of the things that are really important to understand about human nature is that we are hardwired to judge. In some situations, I think judgment is crucial to our survival.

Judgment can become a problem, however, when we judge what we don’t understand. Limited information and very little, if any, first-hand knowledge leads to inaccurate assumptions.

Autism parents frequently find themselves on the receiving end of judgment. Oftentimes, people aren’t shy about pointing out what they think, even when they haven’t been asked. We hear things about our kids all the time. Among the most common situations is when we’re out in public and our child with Autism has a meltdown. People make comments about how we’re terrible parents or our child is a spoiled brat.

We hear things like that child needs a butt whooping or I’d never let my child act like that in public. My personal favorite is when I’m told by someone that I shouldn’t bring a child like that out in public. It’s honestly pretty awful at times.

Never mind that neither bad parenting nor a spoiled child is at fault and in fact, the child in question is in distress.

I’ve had that happen in one form or another, countless times over the years and it sucks every single time.

Another common situation is when parents are judged based on how well they keep up with the house, yard, bills, and anything else along those lines.

An Autism parent is many things, including sleep-deprived, emotionally and physically exhausted, but not lazy or irresponsible.

A Peak Inside

It’s easy to peek in the front window and see piles of dirty laundry, and toys all over the floor. You might see stacks of unpaid bills on the table, or a sink full of dirty dishes. There may even see a kid running around with little if any clothing on. You might see these things and assume the worst.

Oftentimes, however, the reality is much different than it appears on the surface.

Over the years, I’ve been very open, honest, and transparent about the struggles my family faces. I know full well that I open myself up to the judgemental eyes of the public. I do this because I know I’m not alone. Other parents find comfort in knowing they aren’t the only ones struggling. I know this helps because I hear from parents all the time. They tell me they’re so grateful for all the – you’re not alone reminders.

At the same time, it also helps others to better understand that things aren’t always as they appear. I would hope that these very personal insights would open hearts and minds. Often times they do and people learn something.

Unfortunately, sometimes people still focus on my failures and seem to ignore all the things that I’ve managed to accomplish despite all the challenges or obstacles.

Juggling Plates

In the Twitter discussion from the other day, I used an example of juggling to help put this into perspective.

All parents have to be able to juggle things and for the sake of argument, let’s just refer to those things as plates.

We all have to keep as many of those plates in the air as we can and try to limit the number of broken plates that end up on the floor.

Having to juggle everything in general, isn’t easy for any parent. When you’re an autism and/or special needs parent, however, the number of plates we have to keep in the air dramatically increases. Not only that but there’s an endless stream of new plates flying at us from all directions, all hours of the day and night. We have to try and keep all those plates from hitting the floor as well.


I don’t like using the word impossible very often but I’ve no qualms about saying that it’s impossible to keep every single plate in the air for any length of time. We have to constantly triage and re-triage each plate, in real-time, as we’re juggling them.

We have to quickly decide if each new plate, hurled in our direction is important enough to keep in the air, and if necessary, which of the plates already in the air can be sacrificed to make room for a more important one.

It’s not easy and sometimes we drop plates that, ideally wouldn’t or shouldn’t be dropped. Plates will be missed and they will shatter on the floor, not because we’re terrible or irresponsible parents but because we’re human. Broken plates are going to happen.

When someone peeks in your window, only to judge you for all the plates they see shattered on the floor, they’re failing to see the hundreds or thousands of plates that haven’t.

We feel guilty for every single broken plate because we’re harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be. Judgment can be demoralizing and it only adds to the guilt we already feel. Frankly, we don’t need anyone’s help to feel guilty because we do just fine on our own.

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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Your example of “juggling plates” is so very well put. My wife and I have done this for the past 33 years, once our son was diagnosed as being autistic. People who are not in this parallel world of existence, have no idea the immense stress, loss of sleep , financial problems that will beset the family, emotional pain and a whole list of other things that require an almost superhuman effort to stay afloat, both mentally and physically. It’s always easy to be the arm chair quarterback who sits back in their easy chair and easily judging the players who happen to fumble the ball or make a misstep while being the player who is actually out there in the real, actual game, getting hit from all sides and having to make a million decisions at once, and hoping they’re the right ones. So easy to judge the players when you’re only just a spectator. Rob, as an elder statesman of raising an autistic child, I totally know what you’re talking about and what you’re going through-emotionally, financially and everything else that comes with raising an autistic child. And any of your detractors or shamers should really look at the fact that you are dealing with more than one autistic person in your family at the same time. My admiration and hat has always been off to you since I began reading your blogs. I only have one autistic loved one to protect and continue to try to help. And it’s still a hard road. You have more than one to protect and help. And if uninformed and ignorant people can’t grasp the tremendous pressure you deal with on a daily basis, then who cares what they think. They wouldn’t even begin to know what to do, if the shoe was on the other foot. Raising autistic children and the difficulties that one has to handle day by day can sometimes be like a boxer up against the ropes being hit with a flurry of combination punches. Hard to impossible to block them all but you keep evading, blocking until you can get off the ropes to get a break to regroup but then a short time passes and your own the ropes again but you still have to keep on fighting. I’ve said it in previous comments, and this is to any detractors you have. As far as I’m concerned, I think you are the prime example of a great man, a great father and a great human being in what you do for your boys and your wife. These ignorant people that cross into your space have no freakin’ idea what it involves being the caretaker, parent, partner of someone who has Autism. I have a great amount of respect for you.


From @50ish:

Amen. All three of mine were born in under three years, the oldest being the one with as-yet undiagnosed autism. We attend a tiny Catholic school where any kind of backtalk or disrespect is quickly quashed. I still remember standing the in the parking lot trying to leave the playground, a toddler on each hip, and my oldest screaming at me viciously and refusing to get in the car. I realize that those parents, some of whom are friends, didn’t understand any more than I did at the time. But it still stings. (And I still don’t understand why somebody didn’t just pick the kid the heck up and put him in the car for me! Or take one of the toddlers so I could do it.)

And, like you, I have chosen to speak about it openly and as often as people will listen. I hope they’ll remember my stories and tears when they encounter other parents having similar struggles.


It’s so hard. And those moments last forever in your mind. When I was telling my child I would leave him there and not let him get in the car if he carried on screaming, someone shouted at me that what I was doing was child abuse. I felt so bad. And it was a meltdown because I wouldn’t get him sweets out of a vending machine when leaving a swimming lesson. He had been screaming at me all the way to the car. He was 7 years old at the time.

He’s 13 now. Still has meltdowns, but less so in public.


The hardest part is knowing which plates to let fall.

Amy Nielsen

Well said! It’s a great analogy of how I feel ALL the time!


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