Talking to Parents of Kids with Autism (Kate Altman, M.S.)

This is a nice essay in the Washington Post by a mother of a child with autism on what people should say (or not say) when a parent tells them their child has autism.

The author laments that when she tells someone her child has autism, they often respond by minimizing the condition or its symptoms (like saying, "Oh all kids get fixated on inanimate objects! That's just normal.") or else are overly apologetic (thus overlooking all of her child's great qualities).  She also writes that her greatest pet peeve is when people offer suggestions or advice ("I heard on TV that gluten-free diets can cure autism.  You should try that!").

Whenever we hear that someone is facing a complexity or challenge, coming up with the right thing to say can be difficult.  Responding to the news that someone has a child with autism can be especially difficult; as the author points out, you don't want to minimize the challenges autism provides but you also want to bear in mind that this is still an adored, special and wonderful child.  When someone is grieving a clear loss or death, it can actually be easier to figure out what to say to that person.  But when a parent has learned that their child has autism, it is likely that they will grieve and experience great sadness, but they also still love and adore their child as much as ever and feel great joy about having that child in their lives.

So what to do?  I like the author's advice about asking questions.  Ask the parent, "how do YOU feel about your child's diagnosis?"  You can even admit you are not sure what to say.  And, best of all, simply ask the parent about his or her child: what is she like?  What are his interests? What do you like to do together?  And--if the parent is a friend--let them know you are always there to listen and offer support.

What do you think?  What have been your experiences as a parent or a person on the spectrum with disclosure to others?