When parents are told that their child has autism, it can be upsetting at first, but most vow to do what they can to help their child reach their full potential. But parents are not the only people in a child with autism’s life. The child’s siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents as well as friends of the parents will all be in a position to interact with the child on a regular or occasional basis. Interactions with a child with autism are different from what friends and family are used to, and they may need help understanding autism and how it affects the specific child in their life.
Don’t Wait to Explain Your Child’s Autism, but Keep it Simple
When your child has autism, it is important that both parents and the child have support from friends and family. If they have met your child, they will likely have some sense that they are unique. Tell them your child has been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and that they may have trouble with their language and social skills. You can also tell them that you are getting professional help for your child, but that you and your child need their moral support as well.
If they ask questions, answer them if you can, and direct them toward resources if needed. Don’t push too many details right away. Chances are you are still processing the diagnosis, and they will need time to do the same.
Explain That Autism Affects Every Child Differently
Depending on the age of the child, and where they land on the autistic spectrum, how autism affects them can vary a lot. One child might sway and sing, another may be silent. Some children talk incessantly, but have trouble with eye contact or being touched. Some blurt out observations that may be seem offensive, but that the child does not mean any harm.
Emphasize Your Child’s Strengths
Many people have an idea that a child with autism is doomed to failure, but this is not the case. While you don’t want to go on and on about your child’s good singing voice or drawing ability, they should be noted. This gives friends and family positive things to focus on when they are around your child.
Explain Do’s and Don’ts Specific to Your Child
To some extent, specifics about your child’s treatment plan should be on a need to know basis, but if friends and family are caring for your child, or helping you there may be things they need to know. For example, if your child doesn’t like being touched hugs are probably out, and if they are lactose intolerant it’s best not to offer them ice cream. Having a routine and knowing what to expect is important. Explain these expectations, such as playing with Legos for a half hour before bed. Some children might be very upset when the unexpected happens, but it isn’t about not getting their way. It’s about disrupting the child’s sense of order, and does not merit punishment.
This doesn’t mean friends and family should always concede to a child with autism. Tell them about the goals of their specific treatment plan, such as looking at a person when they talk to them. Some believe that people with autism are insensitive to others, but many just have trouble picking up on facial cues or body language. If the child does hurt or offend them, they may need to directly tell them what they did and why it was upsetting. But the same goes for positive feedback. For example, a child without autism might feel satisfied if someone smiles at them, but a child with autism may need to hear a specific compliment for the same effect.
Let Your Other Kids Know Why Their Sibling with Autism is Treated Differently
Siblings are prone to jealousy and want to feel as if they are being treated fairly. When you have different rules for one child, it can seem like favoritism, when you are only addressing their needs. It is also important to give your other children the love and attention they need. Arrange one on one time with them where they can communicate freely and understand that you love them just as much.