I imagine it’s awkward being a friend or relative to a family with special needs. There are so many questions, and the parents may not have all the answers. You can read articles about the diagnosis, but that won’t describe every child.
I’m still new to the special needs community, and have to really pay attention to the lingo: “special needs” is a better term than “handicapped,” “typical” is preferred over “normal,” “appears to be on the spectrum,” “is on the spectrum,” or “has Autism” seems to be favored over “Autistic.”
And stereotyping really isn’t fun. People see movies or read articles about a diagnosis, or meet one person with it, and assume they know what your child is like. It’s almost better not to read the articles. If you’re curious, just ask the parents. No need to form opinions or assumptions without first-hand knowledge. Children change over time, so first-hand information will always be the most accurate.
I make friends with children with other diagnoses, and I have no idea what they are dealing with. I honestly don’t need to know what is hard about their lives. I just care about how they are doing, just like with any other friend.
Possibly, a good way to go into a conversation about special needs might be to view it as if you are asking about any other medical condition, like diabetes. If you aren’t comfortable asking about something like that, you might be out of place asking about any other medical issue. If you are comfortable, you might focus on how they are doing, rather than what is wrong. Otherwise, you’re more of a lookie loo than a friend.
Most friends and relatives are well-intentioned, but parents deal with inquisitors of all sorts, so if you’re the friend, I hope this helps you to define yourself as the good sort. Don’t worry if you feel you’ve blown it. We’re all learning and had to start somewhere. Your good intentions will reveal themselves.
If you’re a parent of special needs and are finding yourself in awkward or hurtful conversations with those you love, you can teach them, even if not overtly. Use the language you want them to use, and discuss the details you are comfortable talking to them about. Whether you are talking to someone who needs to butt out, or someone you want to draw in, your guidance will steer them where you want them to be. You are setting the boundaries.