Co-Author Jamie Pomeranz & her son
It’s a sticky situation to navigate when your friend tells you that their child has been diagnosed with Autism or any other developmental delay. You want to be supportive, but you may not know what to say. Some of the most common responses can have a much different effect than you intend. So, another special needs mom and I have put together a little "cheat sheet" of the do's and the don'ts when talking to a friend with a newly diagnosed child.
This is kind of a go-to response when something awful happens, but condolences aren't really appropriate. We have a beautiful child that deserves more than the same response you give to someone grieving a death. My child has his whole future in front of him. This reaction makes us feel like they are being labeled a tragedy right off the bat!
All kids do that.
Yes, all kids spin (for example) but the reasons are different. Your child does it for fun, mine does it to try to regulate a dysfunctional system. I know you want to show support and let me know that my kid is not THAT different, but part of that support is acknowledging that my child's needs ARE different and often need to be addressed at inconvenient times.
Aren't you excited to see what amazing skill he has?
This is kinda the other end of the spectrum of "I'm sorry". Your enthusiastic support is appreciated but not EVERY autistic child develops into an artistic or mathematical genius and, frankly, it's not fair to expect them to become the next Einstein. Honestly, most of us are focused on pretty simple life basics that typically developing kids seem to learn through osmosis. We want our kids to walk, talk, and grow up to be independent people.
You may be the most empathetic person in the world. Unless you actually have a special needs child, you don't. Just avoid saying anything like this.
Everything will be ok.
I guess that depends on what you consider ok, right? Will we get to a place of manageability? Probably... eventually. All the therapies and insurance claims will become our normal, but we have a huge stressful journey ahead of us. No matter what, our child will have lifelong struggles. Providing our child with the care he needs will be an enormous financial burden which we may or may not be able to afford and the emotional drain will stress even the strongest of relationships. Many of us will have a roller coaster of experiences before we even remotely approach "okay" on a regular basis, so this response tends to feel a little insensitive.
I’ve read many blogs and articles on this topic and they usually end here. Leaving you feeling helpless with a question like “well what CAN I say to make my friend feel supported and loved?”. We’re not going to leave you high and dry. Here are some things that special needs moms have said they appreciated hearing the most
Do you want to talk about it?
Everyone handles having a newly diagnosed child differently. Some people like to talk about it. Some people don’t. Some people want you to learn all about it like they have. They can go on and on about the facts and feelings related to their child’s special needs. Others just want to tell you they got a diagnosis and move on. Asking questions like this allows them to choose.
This doesn’t change our friendship.
Even if some of us don’t admit it, most special needs parents are wondering if you’re going to view us and our child differently once we tell you about their diagnosis. We worry that you will want to spend less time with us. It’s nothing against you. We don’t think you’re shallow or a bad person who doesn’t like special needs kids. We just worry because that’s what all parents do. We worry. So reassuring your friend that your relationship will remain the same as it’s always been after learning this information about their child, can be very reassuring.
Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.
You will probably never have anyone take you up on this, but the offer is what counts. It lets us know that you are willing to act in a supportive way in addition to speaking supportive words. Who knows maybe one day we’ll need someone to pick up our kid from school when our other child is having a meltdown that makes us late. Or maybe we’ll need someone to take us out for a drink when we’ve had just about all we can take for the week and need some adult time.
I believe in you & your child.
You picked them to be your friend for a reason, so telling them what you see in them as a parent should be easy and may prove to be super uplifting. Many of us often don’t believe in ourselves as much as we should. So hearing you say that you do means a lot. Most special needs parents also really like to hear that you believe in their child’s potential to grow, learn, and lead happy lives. Not that they’ll be a savant, but just that you see them for who they are, how they can grow, and that you love them for it.
The main thing to remember with all of this is to be sincere. You can say everything exactly right, but if you don’t mean it, it doesn’t mean a thing. That’s what friendship is all about. Truly caring for each other, especially as we walk through all the unexpected things that life throws our way.
Megan is our Special Needs Momma, and director of the Hoboken Special Needs Parents Group (HSNPG). She pulled in another local mama, Jamie Pomeranz, to collaborate on this post.