There may be a number of different reactions in the family to the news that a child is autistic. In an ideal world, all family members, even extended family members, would be supportive, but the sad truth is that many will disappointed or even disgusted. Some a family members may scold the autistic child too often. Some may treat your autistic child unfairly. It may be that a family member insists on treating your autistic child as he or she treats all the other children in your family, even when it is clearly inappropriate. These are some of the signs that the person does not understand or accept the truth of the situation. These kinds of reactions may often be seen when it is first discovered that a child is autistic. So, as a parent, you should be aware that this may happen and be prepared for it.
Often, relatives who react in these ways simply do not understand what autism is or what it means for your child and your immediate family. Many people see autism as a type of mental retardation, even though many autistic children and adults are highly intelligent. They do not understand that autistic people are just unable to communicate in the same ways that others would. It may be helpful to try to explain what autism means to these family members, and have them spend some time with you and your autistic child. This will allow them to see the effects of autism and the methods you can use to cope.
Sometimes the family member may continue to be unsupportive. He or she may even refuse your explanation. Try asking why the family member is so unreceptive of the child or the situation. Is it that they are they afraid of hurting the child? Are they concerned about taking on added responsibility when they are spending time with the child? Could it be they feel guilty or are embarrassed. If you can pinpoint the reasons why a family member is unreceptive, you may be better able to address the issue and, hopefully, help him or her to overcome their original perceptions.
It is possible that no amount of talking or spending time together will help this family member overcome their prejudice. Sometimes a person will have stubbornly made up his or her mind, and you will never be able to make him or her see how beautiful your son or daughter is – autism and all. If this is the case, it may be necessary to limit contact with him or her. Eliminating a family member from your life, or limiting your contact with them, may be difficult, but it can also have the effect of ridding you and your child of their negative energy and personality. You are going to need the best positive support available.
Keep in mind that there are other family members have been and will be supportive. Trust that your children are adjusting and will do well, and let that be a source of strength for you.
Strengthen your support network by participating in parent support groups for autistic children. And remember that you can surround yourself with those who do accept and love your child-family or not.