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home : columns : dear harriette January 25, 2020

11/18/2019 7:16:00 AM
New friend wants to be sensitive to child on the spectrum

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a new friend who has a child who she says is "on the spectrum." I have heard the term, of course, but I have never met anyone who has autism or is considered to be on the spectrum, at least not to my knowledge.

My friend talks about some of the challenges he has interacting with other children. I would like to be ready to engage this child in a supportive way, but I don't have a clue as to what to do. I have done some reading, enough to figure out that there are all kinds of things that could be going on with a person who is on the spectrum. Would it be rude for me to ask my new friend what she recommends? I know this is a sensitive topic, but she did bring it up. -- On the Spectrum

DEAR ON THE SPECTRUM: The most thoughtful action you can take is to speak up and tell your friend that you have thought about what she told you about her son, and you want her input so that you can welcome him in an appropriate and loving manner. Ask for her advice on how to approach him.

Many children who are on the spectrum do not like too much physical contact, and sometimes loud noises and other such disruptions can be difficult. Ask your friend what stimuli work for her son and what he tends to avoid. Chances are, she will be relieved to learn that you are proactively trying to figure out how to best engage her son. For more ideas, go to:

DEAR HARRIETTE: I posted some photos on social media of my family from a recent get-together. One of my friends who has known my family for decades was mostly complimentary about the people in the pictures, but when he got to my sister -- the one who was often mean to me when I was a child -- he said she looked old and tired. I don't necessarily see that when I look at her. I think he was trying to be nice to me because he knows how upset I used to get about how she treated me, but I still didn't like it. Should I say something to him, or just leave it alone? -- Defending My Sister

DEAR DEFENDING MY SISTER: The moment has passed. You should let it go. If you have the occasion to speak to this friend again about your sister, share positive input about your most recent interactions with her. If you have been able to move past your childhood behaviors and establish a good rapport with her, share that with your friend.

You can also thank him for wanting to have your back when he saw your sister's photo, but let him know that you are able to manage your emotions now. If you let him know that you are OK with her now, you will free him to have no more need for judgment of her either.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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