Explaining Autism to Friends and Family

Explaining Autism to Friends and Family

After diagnosis comes an even more difficult task of having to break the news to friends and family. This is made more difficult by the fact that you and your spouse may not have fully come to terms with your child’s diagnosis. All the same, this is one of those things you will have to do sooner or later and as they all say, it is better if they get it straight from the horse’s mouth than from the grapevine. This is because it is easier to deal with reactions if you are the bearer of the news than dealing with what may come as rumors to others.

How to do it is always the big question because it becomes sensitive if it has to do with very family friend or real family. On the other hand, these are the very people you will rely on for support especially during days when you’re all sapped and you feel like breaking down. After all you are not the only one in the life of your child. But the fact that people may not have the right information or not have information at all about Autism, makes the matter a little more complicated.
A few tips listed below will help you talk to your close friends and family about your child’s diagnosis and also help you have them onboard your support team.

Take a step at a time

Small doses of news are typically better digested compared to dropping a bombshell. If you have been visiting the therapist for some time, you can explain to them the various ASD symptoms which your child is being treated for, for instance speech delay, social skills development, etc. After a while it will be easier breaking the news about the actual diagnosis because at this time they will be more prepared for it.

Don’t just break the news, go a step ahead to give them some information about ASD, its symptoms, its diagnosis and treatment or management. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, consider explaining to them specifically how it has affected your child so that they will be of more help to you as time goes by.

They may be in denial just like you may have been; give them time

Some friends or family members, especially those that have raised questions about your style of parenting, may feel as though you are overreacting. They may not believe the diagnosis at first and this is perfectly okay. Everyone has a different way of reacting to such news.

Siblings are an important aspect of family

Siblings are usually on the receiving end of a family with a child diagnosed with autism. First, focus and attention somehow turn away from them towards the affected child. Secondly, they have to cope with the many changes in the home that follows their sibling’s diagnosis and sometimes it becomes too much for them to handle. On the other hand, since they are always present in the life of the affected child, they are the best resource couples have during ASD management.
Most important is a clear understanding of autism and an emphasis of the role of siblings in the life of the child with autism. Consider giving the children age-appropriate information so that you don’t load them with too much information that they will not be able to digest. For example, you can explain to children younger than age 7that no one is to blame for the diagnosis and that this condition cannot be transmitted to others.

Also consider that, depending on their reaction, some may fear and actually choose to stay away from their affected sibling. In this case, you need to be there to protect/ take care of them and eventually be a unifying factor. Remember you will need to exercise patience above anything else.

Finally, as these children grow up, they will also need to grow in their understanding of autism and so you should not stop interacting with them and giving them information about autism as is required. Consider counselling sessions for the entire family if you continue facing difficulties with your children after breaking the news about diagnosis.

Ask for their help

Getting help with caring for your autistic child is absolutely necessary and the best people to do this are usually friends or family members particularly those with vested interest in your child.

However, after having received the news about autism diagnosis, they may be confused about how and when they need to step in and help you. At this point you need to firmly and clearly explain to them about autism. Also inform them about the abilities and challenges your child is facing and how they can help.

At times, you will be the one that needs help or relief. These people will offer you a shoulder to lean on, help you with the other siblings who feel left out or perhaps take care of the affected child so you can have some time with the other children or be alone. However, they need to know when to do this.

Secondly, you may consider talking them into going for Individualized Education Plan meetings with you to have a right and professional view about caring for your child and developing a working relationship with him/her. Also give them sources of information including websites and literature about autism so that they are well informed about this condition. This makes it a lot easier for you when it comes to trusting your child with them.

Allow them to share their feelings and reactions about the diagnosis

It is a cinch that different people will have different reactions when they receive news about your child’s diagnosis. Some may feel upset, others sad, while still others may develop fear given the misconceptions that surround autism. Some will finally come to understand why you have been making numerous trips to the therapist.

Apart from being patient with them and giving them time to let the news sink in, you will need to take a proactive step and give them a platform to express their feelings. This, rather than keeping their emotions to themselves will help them get over it sooner than later. If it helps, inform them that you are already working with professionals in caring for your child and that they too have the important role of supporting you to raise your child.

Always bring out the best of your child

It is common for people to pity you after knowing about your child’s condition. However, being pitied doesn’t add to your motivation, rather it makes you feel sorry for yourself and this is definitely not in the best interest of your child. In such situations, communicate clearly that your child is just different. That there are abilities he possesses which others do not have. Go a step further and mention his abilities if this will help others focus on the positives in your child. This should also reflect in the way you treat your child because more often than not, you will inform how they treat your child.

In the same regard, you need to keep emphasizing the importance of your child being treated just like any other child, without a keen focus on his condition. This also helps him develop faster.

Explain any odd behavior

As we had already mentioned, when informing others about autism, you also need to inform them that it is a spectrum hence it affects different people differently. To help them understand your child better, you also need to explain to them some things your child does that they will find odd. For instance, if he’s aggressive during some specific times, you can explain to them that he’s just not throwing tantrums, it is a way of him communicating what he doesn’t like and that this is a known ASD symptom.

Once they get to understand your child in this perspective, it opens them up to teaching him even more and treating him or her appropriately.


Finally, the importance of joining a parent support group cannot be underestimated. Apart from gaining insight about taking care of your child with autism, you also learn much about dealing with your friends and family.

In addition, look for an intervention program that includes family and friends in the home setting. This is because they will also be part of the approaches put forward in the program as they interact with therapists assigned to help your child. This way they will be in a better position to support you and your child.