Explaining Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis to Friends and Family

If your child has been diagnosed with autism, it may have been a difficult challenge for you at first. However, like other parents, you have certainly taken up the challenge and vowed to do whatever you can to help your child reach his true potential.

Another hurdle you must overcome is explaining your child’s diagnosis to friends and family. They will also interact with your child and should know that those interactions will be different from those of people without autism. To know how your child with autism is different from other children in their lives, 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 inform your friends and family about your child’s diagnosis. Keep your explanation as simple as possible. There is a lot of information to digest and you don’t want to overwhelm them. They may have known that your child has some unique traits. It is your job to tell them why and to enlist their support in your treatment. Be sure to tell them that your child’s Asperger syndrome or autism can lead to some difficulties with language and social skills that may be easy for other children.

Have a short list of resources that you can refer 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 based on their age and where they are on the autism spectrum. Your friends and family need to know your child’s unique needs. While one child may wave or swing, another may sing or talk endlessly, especially on topics that interest him. Some children can be completely quiet. Many children with autism have difficulty touching or looking into the eyes. Others may still say things that seem offensive, but do not mean any harm. Friends and family must be prepared to understand and adapt to the challenges your child faces.

Emphasize Strengths Over Challenges

Many misinformed people believe that a child with autism has little hope of developing his 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 bringing up your child’s special talents, such as athletics, science, the arts, or music to these special people in your life. They should also 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 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 your family and friends beforehand so that they will not be offended when your child does not hold out your hand. With such a child, people who physically demonstrate their emotions may want to back away from hugging. If your child has a hard time making eye contact, explain it to his friends and family so they can help you train him in a positive way if that’s one of his current treatment goals.

Routines are often important for children with autism. If your child becomes upset when his schedule is interrupted, it is important for family and friends to know that the child is not spoiled, but rather that this behavior is part of his being affected by autism.

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 are following the goals of their treatment plan and are not expecting more than the child can give at this point in their treatment. For example, if a child with autism offends someone, the person can explain to their child how their actions hurt him, but without judgment. Positive feedback should generally be more than a smile, as children with autism often have a hard time “reading” visual cues. A verbal compliment in addition to a smile may be just what your child needs to help reinforce the behaviors that will lead to success.

Explain your child’s autism diagnosis to his siblings

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

Above all, set aside time that you can spend with 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 stand firm in your belief that each child should have their own unique needs met. Listening to the needs of your children and trying to meet those of your children without autism is just as important as meeting those of your child with autism.

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