Hi Is this normal,
My loved one just learned of a diagnosis for their child – how can I support and what is the right/wrong thing to do here?
In my opinion, you’re already doing the most supportive thing you can do, and that’s reaching out and asking for help with how to be the kind of friend they need right now. So often, people are afraid of saying the wrong thing so they ultimately say nothing. Or, they don’t consider their words or actions, and unintentionally hurt those they want to help. You’ve recognized that you need some guidance here, and honestly more people should take such consideration when dealing with people they love who are going through difficult times. So I commend you immensely for that – sometimes asking for help is the strongest, smartest thing we can do.
And in that vein, I’m going to introduce Gena Mann to offer her advice and expertise here. Because while I can certainly give you some pearls of wisdom on how to be supportive and helpful, you need to hear from someone who’s been in your loved one’s shoes. Gena is a mama to 4, with 2 sons on the autism spectrum, so trust me when I say she knows of what she speaks. She recently founded Wolf + Friends, an online resource for parents of children with special needs looking to connect with a community, and she has some great advice for supporting your friend and loved on through this next season of life.
Don’t say “I’m so sorry.” Don’t say, “My friend’s kid had it and he did a special diet and is cured!” And don’t grill your friend with 1000 questions right away. Everyone is different when it comes to sharing their child’s diagnosis. Some feel immediately confident and open about all of the details, while others need time to process. But I think it’s safe to say if a friend comes to you to share that their child has received an autism diagnosis, they still have a ton of questions and unknowns in their own mind.
Most importantly, they want to feel supported and heard. I would stick with something along the lines of, “This must be difficult for you. Is there anything I can do?” There is no one size fits all here, because everyone’s needs will be different.
But there are some things you can offer that might be universally helpful. For example, offer to bring your child over to play. It can be so isolating to have a child with autism and parents often worry other kids won’t want to play because their child has delays or plays differently. You could also offer to babysit/occupy other children if they need to go to a therapist/specialist appointment. Or really, you can just say, “I am here for you and want to hear as much or as little as you want to tell me. I will laugh with you or cry with you and be whatever you need me to be.” Sometimes that is all they need in the moment.