Navigating the Journey: Tips for Communicating About Autism with Family and Friends
Raising a child with autism involves overcoming various challenges and celebrating numerous victories. One significant hurdle parents often grapple with is effectively conveying their child’s diagnosis and its implications to friends and family, and strangers. The lack of a broad understanding of autism frequently complicates these interactions. This comprehensive guide presents you with strategies to explain autism effectively, transforming potentially challenging situations into golden opportunities for advocacy, education, and increased understanding.
The Autistic Spectrum – Understanding the Basics
Understanding autism is the crucial first step to explaining it to others. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological condition that affects an individual’s social interactions, social skills, communication, and behaviors. The term “spectrum” emphasizes that people with autism can have a wide range of symptoms and abilities. Each child’s journey with autism is distinct and shaped by their unique challenges and strengths.
Recognizing that autism isn’t just about challenges but also about strengths is important. Many individuals with autism have extraordinary abilities in art, music, math, or memory. Understanding these aspects will allow you to approach discussions about autism from a balanced perspective, acknowledging both the challenges and the strengths.
Personalized Explanation – Every Child is Unique
Autism manifests differently in each individual. Hence, when explaining your child’s autism diagnosis to others, it’s essential to personalize your explanation. Speak about the particular ways autism affects your child, their specific behaviors, their individual strengths and abilities, and their unique challenges.
If your child struggles with social interactions, social situations, or social cues but displays an incredible talent in pattern recognition, explain this. If sudden changes disturb them, share these instances. By providing detailed insights, you offer a more personalized understanding of your child’s experiences, fostering deeper comprehension and empathy.
Accessibility in Language – Keep it Simple
The key to making the concept of autism comprehensible to those unfamiliar with it lies in the language you use. Medical jargon or complex terminology related to autism can create confusion or misunderstanding. Therefore, opt for simple, everyday language to describe the experiences and behaviors associated with autism.
Instead of saying, “My child has sensory processing issues,” caregivers can explain, “Certain environments, like ones with loud noises or bright lights, can be overwhelming for my child and lead to distress.” If someone asks questions about non-verbal communication, families can talk about the different types of communication skills like body language, facial expressions, eye contact, visual aids, or apps used by neurotypical people. Simplifying complex concepts into everyday language can help others grasp the reality of your child’s experience.
Starting the Dialogue – Discussing Autism with Your Child
With time, your child may begin to notice their differences compared to their peers. It’s crucial to have open, age-appropriate conversations about their autism. A communication tip is to approach this dialogue as a means of understanding and celebrating their uniqueness rather than as a sensitive topic.
Highlight their unique abilities, focus on their strengths, use visual aids, and explain their challenges gently. Ensure they comprehend that everyone has differences and their autism is part of what makes them special. Building this understanding can empower your child to explain their autism to their friends, fostering peer acceptance and understanding and building self-esteem.
Setting Boundaries – The Role of Family
Family gatherings can sometimes be a source of stress for a special needs child with autism. Noise, changes in routine, and a flurry of questions can be overwhelming. Some family members may not understand the importance of maintaining certain routines, transitions, or guidelines for your child’s life.
Clear communication about these boundaries is essential. Explain why maintaining these routines is crucial for your child’s comfort and how they can contribute to maintaining these. It’s about creating an understanding and supportive environment, not restricting family interactions.
Handling Public Interactions and Inquiries
Interactions with strangers can be tricky. You may encounter questions like, “What’s wrong with him/her?” or unsolicited advice, which can be challenging, especially during stressful moments. A brief, polite response can help address such situations. Depending on your comfort level, communication style, and the circumstances, you can choose to reveal your child’s diagnosis.
You can use these moments as opportunities for advocacy if you’re comfortable doing so. A brief explanation of autism or children with disabilities can help increase awareness and understanding. However, keeping the interaction short during more demanding situations and focusing on your child’s needs and everyone’s mental health is fine.
Advocacy and Education Opportunities
As a parent of a child with autism, you’ll find moments where curiosity or concern can open the door to advocacy and education. Consider carrying small business cards or use pictures or pamphlets with basic information about autism and sources to learn more. This strategy can efficiently spread understanding without requiring significant time or energy during stressful moments. Your child’s provider may have some great resources for you.
Asking for Support – It’s Okay to Reach Out
Parenting a child with autism is a demanding task. When you need support, whether it’s a listening ear, practical assistance, or some time off, it’s important to articulate this to your family and friends. They likely want to help but may not know how. Being clear about what you need can help them provide the support you require. There are also a lot of great local support groups you can join for added support to help process information.
Communicating about autism to family and friends is a delicate task. However, these conversations are integral in fostering understanding, acceptance, and support for your child within your personal circles. Everyone’s journey toward understanding and acceptance is different, and patience is key. It may be a slow process, but each conversation explains behavior, and each shared experience is a step forward. To learn more, watch this webinar from our Chief Clinical Officer, Chrissy Barosky.
Are you interested in joining the Bierman Autism Centers team? If so, visit the ABA Therapy Jobs section on our website to see all open positions!