4 Tips on How to Respond When I Disclose My Son Is on the Spectrum


There have been a lot of things written about what not to say to a parent of a child on the autism spectrum. Do a Google search and a lot of guidance comes up.

One of my favorites was written about two years ago by a blogger named Lexi Magnusson. She listed six things not to say to the parent of a child with autism, which includes not only why these things should not be said, but also offers suggestions of what could be said instead.

When we disclose our son is on the autism spectrum, I usually hear the phrases mentioned at numbers 2 and 5 on Lexi’s list: “He’ll probably grow out of it,” “God knew you could handle this!” and “Special kids for special parents.”

We’ve also heard, “I’m sorry,” which is really not applicable because there is nothing to feel sorry about. We don’t feel bad about it. Our son’s diagnosis was a watershed moment. It helped us get him the services and support he needed, which made a huge difference.

“You can’t tell” is another phrase people tell us. While it doesn’t bother me, I think it says a lot about the general lack of awareness in society about all of the variations of autism.

A comment that does bother me: “You’re lucky it isn’t worse.” It upsets me about what it suggests about those who might have it “worse.” Our son’s autism is what it is. We don’t need the magic of luck as consolation or confirmation of anything.

So how should people respond when I tell you? Here are my tips:

1. Don’t get hung up on the word autism.

As soon as you hear the word autism, you may start going through your brain’s database for a definition so you know how to respond. The movie “Rain Man” might come to mind, or maybe some other well-known autism characteristics that you might not be seeing in my child.

Then you might feel lost because you don’t have any ingrained social guidance on how to respond. And so you say one of those things you shouldn’t say because you don’t know what else to do.

Just let it go. Autism is so complex and so varied that unless you’re an expert, no one can expect you to be able to recognize all the facets.

Simply take my word for it. Don’t feel like you need to do anything and listen to the rest of what I am saying.

2. Pay attention to context.

There’s a reason I have told you about his autism diagnosis, and I guarantee it’s not to elicit your sympathy.

It might be because I want you to understand why my son may act differently in certain situations. I may be trying to explain why my family might do things differently than expected. It might be because we need your help with something.

3. Listen to what I’m saying.

Chances are good that an appropriate, on-target response will be obvious if you really listen to what I’m saying.

4. “Thank you for telling me.”

If you still can’t think of something to say, remember I have chosen to disclose private information to you. You can acknowledge that confidence with a simple thank you.

Follow this journey on Autism Mom.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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