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Helping Family and Friends Understand Your Child’s Autism

How to explain your child’s autism diagnosis to friends and family

If your child has been diagnosed with autism, it may have been a difficult challenge to face at first. However, like other parents, she has certainly risen to the challenge and has vowed to do everything she can to help her son reach her true potential.

Another hurdle you must overcome is explaining your child’s diagnosis to friends and family. They, too, will be interacting with your child and need to know that those interactions will be different than for people without autism. To know how your child with autism is different from other children in his life, you will need to be informed. Here are some ideas to help you give them that information:

Give your friends and family an easy-to-understand explanation of your child’s autism diagnosis

As soon as you can, you should tell your friends and family about your child’s diagnosis. Keep your explanation as simple as possible. There’s a lot of information to digest, and you don’t want to overwhelm them. They may have known that your child has some unique characteristics. It’s your job to tell them why and get their support in your treatment. Be sure to tell them that your child’s Asperger syndrome or autism may cause some difficulties with language and social skills that may be easy for other children.

Have a short list of resources you can refer them to if they have questions. Provide only the minimum of details at the beginning, so they can process the information at a comfortable pace.

Make sure they know that autism is not a “one size fits all” condition.

As you probably know, children with autism vary depending on their age and where they are on the autism spectrum. Your friends and family need to know about your child’s unique needs. While one child may wave their hands or sway, another may sing or talk non-stop, especially about topics that interest them. Some children can be completely silent. Many children with autism have difficulty touching or making eye contact. Others may still say things that sound offensive, but mean no harm. Friends and family must be prepared to understand and adapt to the challenges your child faces.

Emphasize strengths more than challenges

Many misinformed people believe that a child with autism has little hope of reaching their future potential. You, of course, know that this is not true. Your family and friends also need to know these facts. Although your natural inclination may be to avoid bragging, try to mention your child’s special talents, such as athletics, science, the arts, or music, to these special people in your life. They also need to focus on the positive when they interact 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 must remain confidential, there are some details that you may want to share to allow others to help you care for your child. If your child is sensitive to touch, it would be a good idea to explain this to family and friends beforehand so they won’t be offended when your child doesn’t shake your hand. With such a child, people who are physically demonstrative of their emotions may want to back away from hugs. If your child is having difficulty making eye contact, explain this to her friends and family so they can help guide her in a positive way if that is one of the goals of her current treatment.

Routines are often important for 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 that this behavior is part of his autistic condition.

These explanations do not mean that your family and friends should give in to all of your child’s demands. However, it does mean that they follow the goals of their treatment plan and do not expect more than the child can provide at this point in their treatment. For example, if a child with autism offends someone, the person can explain to your child how her actions hurt him, but without judging him. Positive feedback should usually be more than a smile, as children with autism often have a hard time “reading” visual cues. A verbal compliment plus a smile may be just what your child needs to help reinforce behaviors that will lead to success.

Explaining your child’s autism diagnosis to his siblings

Siblings may not understand why their child with autism should be treated differently than they are. Children’s sense of justice often makes them feel jealous or they feel that they are favoring their child with autism. Although it may be difficult, explain the reasons for the different rules. You may want to point out that because everyone is unique, their needs are different.

Above all, set aside time that you can dedicate to each of your other children individually in which they are the center of love and attention. Allow them to express their concerns without judgment, but be firm in your belief that each child should have their own unique needs met. Listening to your children’s needs and trying to meet those of your children without autism are just as important as meeting those of your child with autism.

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