What to Say
The first words you say may be the only thing someone remembers.
1. How are you doing? Your first instinct may be to say "I'm sorry", but that isn't what they need to hear. If it is a parent who has just learned their child has autism, it is natural for them to have feelings of guilt, grief or helplessness. Give them a chance to talk about their feelings.
2. I have an idea what autism is, but tell me about you/your child. Every person with autism is unique, so ask how it is affecting their life. It will help that you know the basics.
3. Is there anything I can do to help you? Be sure to check out the "What to Do" list and offer something specific. They might not take you up on it, but they will appreciate that you offered.
For more suggestions on what to say (and not say), click here to read an article by Karen Siff Exhorn, a TODAY contributor and parent of a child with autism.
What to Do
Nine things you can do for the parent of a child with autism.
1. Listen. This might sound simple, but it can be one of the most important things you do. Don't pull away because you don't know what to say. Don't feel like you need to offer advice. Just be there. And listen.
2. Learn about autism. You don't have to become an expert, but learn enough to separate fact from fiction. You will find links to more information on autism on our Resources page.
3. Teach others. Especially children. They learn by example, so their acceptance of people with autism starts with you. There are links on our Resources page that will help you talk to kids about autism.
4. Provide respite. Offer to babysit while a parent runs an errand, gets some sleep or spends some quality time with another child.
5. Run an errand. Sometimes it is difficult for parents to do simple things like run to the hardware store, pick up dry cleaning, or take the dog to the groomer.
6. Do a chore. Cook dinner one night, do a load of laundry, mow the lawn. Or pay someone else to do it.
7. Don't judge. Their child's behavior is not a reflection of their parenting skills - or of their child's character.
8. Become an advocate. If they don't have time to do the laundry, how are they going to find time to lobby their state legislature or insurance company to fund behavior therapy for their child.
9. Ask what they need. Just like every person with autism is different, so are their families. If you don't know what you can do to help, ask.