Dear Etiquetteer: I have a very new friend who has a son with severe autism. I don't have much experience with this, but would like to invite the family to the same family-friendly gatherings that I invite all of my friends who have children to (I do not have children, but love them and love to include them). What is the kindest way of approaching my friend about anything their child might need that might be different from what I'm used to? I want everyone (parents and children) to feel cared for, nurtured and relaxed at my gatherings.
Etiquetteer applauds your Hospitable Impulse. Frequently the families of children with special needs want nothing more than to be included along with everyone else, and Etiquetteer suspects your New Friend will be grateful for your hospitality and consideration. A candid but sensitive conversation with your New Friend should come first.
Confirmed Bachelor Etiquetteer, with no direct experience raising children with or without autism, felt the need to consult a friend with an autistic child. Her words tell much of which Etiquetteer was not aware. Etiquetteer has chosen to emphasize some of his friend's word in italics.
"The best thing for a hostess to do is find out ahead of time what special accommodations might be needed. Parents of autistic kids need to plan ahead as well. For example, having food that would appeal to your autistic guest. Autistic kids have trouble tolerating loud noises or bright lights. They often cannot control making noises so activities that require quiet are difficult. Open spaces or a pool or bodies of water maybe problematic due to elopement issues. My child jumped in a host's pool in the middle of winter because he is attracted to water. Having a quiet room where a parent can take their child if he melts down is helpful.
"Preparing children who will be present is helpful. Children, God love them, say whatever is on their minds which can be hurtful. When it comes down to it just being flexible to the needs of your autistic guest and their family even if they have to leave early. As a guest I call ahead to see if the activities are appropriate for my child. I want my host's party to be successful. If the activity is not a good match then I decline the invitation. A kind hostess will not take offense. It is always nice to be asked even if it isn't a good match.
"Parents of autistic children need good manners as well. If a child will disrupt a party, or ruin a special activity, or cannot tolerate the host's environment then they should decline the invitation or leave the party early. It is important to respect the host's generosity and personal possessions.
"And finally, it is sometimes easier for the family of an autistic child if they have small gatherings at their own home where the autistic child is most comfortable and has all of his accommodations already in place. This is the most relaxed entertaining we can do."
The number of people with autism, and therefore the number of people who know someone with autism, seems only to be growing, and Etiquetteer predicts that more and more people will be seeking advice about the best way to include this portion of our community. Etiquetteer wishes you well as you incorporate your new friend and her family into your social circle.