How To Be Friends With An Autism Parent

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Before we became parents, my husband, Joseph, and I had a pretty active social life. We went out to the movies, went out for dinner with friends, went to parties, we entertained.

During my pregnancy and after Norrin was born, our social life dwindled down a bit. (I honestly cannot remember the last movie I saw.)

After Norrin was diagnosed with autism, our social life practically became obsolete. It pretty much consists of therapists and appointments. And as our lives changed, so did our friendships. Some ended while others got stronger.

Fontanez Family & Friends

It takes a village to raise a child with autismParents need the support of friends and family—they cannot do it alone. 

Here are some ways you can be there for them:

Be Aware. Autism Awareness is a two way street. Become familiar with the diagnosis (at least the basics) and common terminology. Your friend will need you more than ever and if you have an understanding of the disability—that will make them feel less alone.

If you have “typical” kids, take the time to explain autism to them. It would be great if you could schedule a play date. Especially if your child is a year or two older—the older child can act as a role model for the younger one.

Be Understanding. Those first few months after a diagnosis, your friend may be distant or distracted. There may be times when they’re just not available. They may not pick up the phone when you call. It’s not that they don’t care about you—they may just be too overwhelmed to talk.

Understand that it will be hard for them to commit to plans. Childcare will always be an issue. Understand that they may need to cancel plans at the last minute. It’s not that they don’t want to spend time with you; it may just be a bad time. Keep extending invitations—they will be there when they can. You can always offer to come over with a bottle of wine and chocolate cake. I bet they’d really like that.

Just Listen. There will be times when your friend needs to talk, vent or complain. They may need to cry. Let them. You don’t have to say anything. It’s okay if you don’t offer advice (especially if you don’t have a kid with an autism diagnosis). Just let them talk and get it all out.

But don’t let autism rule the conversation. Try to talk about things that will make them laugh. Your friend will want to know about you too, she/he may be too preoccupied to ask.

Be Sensitive. Using the “r-word” or making jokes about kids on the “short bus” is not okay. It’s never okay to make jokes about special needs children. The r-word is especially cruel, demeaning and extremely insensitive. Remember that if your friend’s kid has an autism diagnosis, they are most likely taking a mini bus to school and/or they may also have an intellectual disability. When you use these words around your friend you are insulting and degrading their child. Eliminating these words from your vocabulary is just the right thing to do.

Make An Effort. Make an effort to understand their kid’s speech or gestures. Make the effort to get to know their kid. Ask questions. Take a genuine interest. Ask if you can sit in on a therapy session to have a better understanding of what it takes to parent a child with autism. If you have children, volunteer your child to participate in the session. I know our therapists love when “typical” kids join the session—it makes for great social interaction.

Offer To Help. There are many things about an autism parent you may not know. One thing you need to know about autism parents is that they rarely ask for help. At least I know I don’t. Maybe you do want to help and are just waiting for your friend to ask. If your friend is anything like me, they will not ask.

Instead of waiting to be asked, take the initiative. Ask “How can I help you?” or “What can I do to help?” If you pose the question in those terms, they just may take you up on the offer.


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  1. by Patty

    On October 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I especially like your point about teaching NT kids about autism. So many times, I have had kids just not understand Danny and treat him not so nice because of it. But when I explained to those kids what was going on with Dan, they usually acted much nicer and were even protective of him. I wish more parents would talk to their kids about stuff like this!

  2. by Melaina

    On October 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I am so happy and grateful parents, families and friends are taking a genuine interest,, it is not always easy raising a family when there’s a child affected by some form of autism,,, people judge,, think your child’s spoiled treat them badly at times,, I think everyone needs to be aware that autism is an epidemic,, everyone knows someone who’s lives are affected by it,,, these children are blessings,, they just cope differently,, have there own ways and see the world from a different angle,, but they are sensitive thoughtful loving and deserving children,,, so please people .. Patience,,, and think before you speak!!! Thank you

  3. by Jim W.

    On October 11, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Asking for help is the hardest. But we’re getting better at it. OFFERED help. . . without asking? That’s like found money. If readers remember NOTHING but the last paragraph they’ll still be ahead of the game. . .

  4. by Wanda Malone

    On October 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    LOVE LOVE THIS article it is soo real and true!!

  5. by Joyce Lieb

    On October 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

    It is true that parents of autistic children rarely ask for help, unless its from their own parent or family member.

    What I liked about this blog is the thought of teaching other children about autism, or about your autistic child. But, how do you explain it? An opportunity has just come up for me to do this, to spread awareness to a class. I do not know where to begin though.

  6. by Rebecca Einstein Schorr

    On October 12, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Great tips. And by putting them in your post, we can send this to friends who might not know what we need. Thanks.

  7. by Rachel

    On October 15, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Thanks for sharing these tips, Lisa. Each and every one of your posts brings me to a closer understanding of what Autism is and how I can be a positive force to family or friend. XO

  8. by Marianne C.

    On October 15, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Many good tips here. Thanks for putting this information out there.

  9. by Migdalia - @MsLatina

    On October 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing these tips. It will help me when dealing with a friend who’s son was recently diagnosed.

  10. by Yadira

    On October 16, 2012 at 8:31 am

    These are great tips. Sometimes you don’t even know how to act either. But this really help me to be better prepared and be a better friend. Thank you very much.

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  12. by Nikki Schwartz (@NikkiSchwartzVB)

    On November 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    what a great article. I’ve shared it on pinterest and printed it for my clients’ parents to read. :)

  13. [...] course, Lisa explains each suggestion in more details at How to Be Friends with an Autism Parent. So hop on over there to read the whole thing. But remember, her suggestions apply to parents of [...]