Before you step away from the situation altogether, though, remember that your friend or family member is still the same person she always was. And so is her child with autism. These hints and tips may offer some help in staying connected:
Don't ChangeIf you were good buddies before the diagnosis, don't change that now. You may need to adjust your timing, spend more time on the phone than in-person, or offer a shoulder more often. But don't assume that an autism diagnosis changes everything. Your friend or relative needs you now more than ever!
Learn a LITTLE Something About AutismThere's an awful lot of information out there about autism. Some is helpful, some is controversial, some is flat out wrong. Instead of diving deep into the literature, check out just one or two reliable websites to get a gist of what the disorder is all about.
Ask QuestionsIf you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. That's because autism presents itself differently in every individual. So ASK - what are your child's symptoms? Are there ways I can make it easier for him when he visits here? What should I look out for, avoid, or do to make his visit (and yours) easier?
Be a Better Listener Than an AdvisorWith autism "cures" in the news every day (along with stories of tragedies, miracles, treatments, findings and scams) it can be tempting to share everything you hear. Try to control the desire to advise: your friend has read everything you've read, and more. Instead, offer an ear, a shoulder, and practical help when needed.
Stay ConnectedYes, your friends or relatives have a child with autism - but that doesn't mean they're no longer interested in the Super Bowl. Invite them! If they can't make it, they'll let you know. If they can, they'll be there.
As Possible, Offer Practical SupportParents of kids with autism don't need more information, but they often need a break or support. How can you help? Top of most parents' list is babysitting. It may be most helpful to offer to sit for the child with autism - but it could also be the case that looking after typically-developing siblings would be even more helpful. Offer, and follow through.
Don't Ignore the Child with AutismIt's easy to ignore or avoid a child with autism. But if the child was a part of your life last week, he's still a part of your life even with a diagnosis. Try your very best to find ways to connect with the child - through chase-and-tickle games, sharing interests, showing the child places or things that might interest him. If there's one thing both your friend and your friend's child needs it's...a friend.
Be Frank - But Not NegativeKids with autism can be difficult. They may have odd or repetitive behaviors, picky eating habits, or even be destructive. That can make it hard for you or your kids when a child with autism comes to visit. Usually, the autistic child's parents are more than sensitive to these types of of issues. But if you find that you or your children are having a hard time figuring out how to interact with an autistic child, say so - gently. Ask for specific advice for specific issues (what can I feed Joey? what's the best way to keep Sam away from the cat?). If possible, avoid angry or judgemental statements (Joey won't eat anything I give him! Sam is going to kill the cat if you don't do something about him!)
Brief Your Own Kids, and Give Them a Polite "Out"Your kids may or may not be comfortable playing with your friend's autistic child. If they're comfortable - wonderful! If not, you can let them know that it's important to say hello and be friendly, but that it's also ok for them to close their bedroom doors, or even to lock away beloved toys. Kids with autism aren't always good at distinguishing between gentle and rough, or between mine and yours.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Some parents of autistic kids choose not to tell their child about their own diagnosis. If this is the case, do NOT share that information with your kids. You can use other terms (Joey has a tough time with sharing) so your kids understand the issues without knowing about a particular diagnosis.