How to Explain Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis to Friends and Family
If your child has received an autism diagnosis, it may have been a difficult challenge for you to face at first. Like other parents, however, you have no doubt risen to the challenge and have promised to do whatever you can to help your child achieve her or his true potential.
Another hurdle that you need to overcome is explaining your child’s diagnosis to your friends and extended family members. They, too, will interact with your child and need to know that those interactions will be different than those with people without autism. To know how your child with autism differs from other children in their lives, they will need to be informed. Here are some ideas to help you give them that information:
Give Friends and Family an Easy-to-Understand Explanation of Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis
As soon as you are able, you need to inform your friends and family about your child’s diagnosis. Keep your explanation as simple as possible. There is much information to digest, and you do not wish to overwhelm them. They may have known that your child has some unique traits. It is your job to tell them why—and enlist their support in her or his treatment. Be sure to tell them that your child’s Asperger’s Syndrome or autism may give them some difficulties with social skills and language skills that they may come easy for other children.
Have a short list of resources that you can refer them to if they have questions. Provide only the bare minimum of details at first, so they can process the information at a comfortable rate.
Make Sure They Know That Autism Is Not a “One Size Fits All” Condition
As you probably know, children with autism vary depending upon their age and where within the autistic spectrum they fall. Your friends and family need to know your child’s unique needs. While one child may flap his hands or sway, another may sing or talk nonstop, particularly about subjects that interest him. Some children may be completely silent. Many children with autism have difficulty with touching or eye contact. Others yet may say things that seem offensive, but mean no harm. Friends and relatives need to be prepared to understand and adjust to the challenges that face your child.
Emphasize Strengths More Than Challenges
Many ill-informed people believe that a child with autism has little hope for fulfilling her future potential. You, of course, know that this is not true. Your family and friends, too, need to know these facts. Although your natural inclination may be to avoid bragging, try to mention your child’s special talents, such as those in athletics, science, the arts, or music to these special people in your life. They, too, need to focus on the positive when interacting with your child.
Explain Your Child’s Specific Challenges and How Friends and Family Can Help
Although there are some aspects of your child’s treatment plan that should remain confidential, there are some details that you may want to share in order to allow others help you care for your child. If your child is touch-sensitive, it would be a good idea to explain that to your family and friends beforehand so they do not become offended when your child does not shake their outstretched hand. With such a child, people who are physically demonstrative about their emotions may want to back off the hugs. If your child struggles with making eye contact, explain that to your friends and family so they can help coach her in a positive way if that is one of her current treatment goals.
Routines are often important to children with autism. If your child becomes upset when his schedule is interrupted, it is important that family and friends know that the child is not spoiled, but rather that this behavior is part of his being affected with autism.
These explanations do not mean that your family and friends need to give in to every demand of your child. It does mean, however, that they follow the goals of her treatment plan and do not expect more than the child can deliver at this point in her treatment. For instance, if a child with autism offends someone, the person can explain to your child how they were hurt by her actions, but do so in a non-judgmental manner. Positive feedback should usually be more than a smile, for children with autism often have a difficult time “reading” visual cues. A verbal compliment in addition to a smile may be just what your child needs to help reinforce behaviors that will lead her to success.
Explaining Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis to Their Siblings
Siblings may not understand why your child with autism must be treated differently than they are. Children’s sense of fairness often causes them to feel jealous or feel as if you are favoring your child with autism. Although it may be difficult, explain the reasons for the different rules. You may want to point out that because they are each unique people, their needs are different.
Above all, set aside time that you can devote to each of your other children on a one-on-one basis in which they are the center of love and attention. Allow them to voice their concerns without becoming judgmental, yet be firm in your conviction that each child must have his or her own unique needs met. Listening to your children’s needs and trying to meet those of your children without autism is just as important as meeting those of your child with autism.