Autism Awareness Tips

Autism and Etiquette - What to Say and Do

Posted by Liz Taylor May 26, 2015

One of my closest girlfriends has a beautiful boy who was diagnosed with autism when he was a toddler. She’s become an incredible advocate for Autism Awareness and created a helpful list of things to do, and not do, if you have a friend with a child that has a disability. I hope you find these thoughtful tips as helpful as I do:

1. Take action to help the family. The diagnosis is very overwhelming. Bringing over dinner, helping out around the house, offering to help watch the kids while your friend gets all of the therapy/school options sorted out are great ideas that really help out a family.  And instead of saying “What can I do to help?” – just do it. Many people feel uncomfortable asking for help, but greatly appreciate when they receive it.

2. Be there for your friend. This is a great time to provide support. Ask them how they are doing and take them out for dinner to talk about how they are coping. When your friend says, “No, I am fine”– don’t take no for an answer. They do need your help.

3. Educate Yourself. Read about the disability.  Understanding the child’s challenges will help you interact while showing your friend support.

4. If you have kids, continue to have them play with a child with autism. When a child has autism, it is very hard for them to make friends. Educate your children about differences and help them play together.

5. If you know religion is important to your friend, offer to pray for them. Uplifting notes from friends and family are very helpful and appreciated.  (If religion is not a part of your friend’s life, then this may make them uncomfortable).

6. Please ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend about the best way to interact with their child or how to better understand their situation. My friend really appreciates the people who take the time to ask how her child is doing, what kinds of therapies he receives, where he goes to school, etc.

In addition, there are some things that people may say or do that, while they don’t realize it, may sting a little:   

1. Some people may say “Thank goodness your other child doesn’t have autism.” While that is meant to be encouraging, it actually sounds like it’s unfortunate that one child is different. Parents feel very fortunate to have their children and love them regardless of their abilities.

2. Some people say things like “He doesn’t look disabled”. While that may be meant as a compliment, it really isn’t because it can be interpreted that the parent is exaggerating her child’s condition. Plus, if he did look different, that would be okay.

3. Others may say things like “I saw on the news that autism is curable now.” While it might sound encouraging to say something like that, it actually is upsetting because autism is not a “curable” disease. While some forms of autism (there are actually hundreds of different forms) can get better through therapy/medications and some children may make huge improvements, other children may not improve. Please be aware that sometimes it makes a parent feel like people think they failed because they haven’t been able to “cure” their child.

4. Please continue to send party invitations.  Unfortunately, after my friend’s son was diagnosed with autism, a lot of invitations to birthday parties, play dates, etc. stopped. Some people may have read that children with autism don’t like to be social or they may be uncomfortable and/or not know how to act. While your friend’s child might have a hard time socializing, they can only learn if they are around other children. Plus, this is a great teaching moment for you and your family.  Teaching your children how to play with other kids that may be different is a great way to build kindness, compassion and patience in your child. 

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