At a glance
Friends and family may not always be supportive of you and your child.
It can be disappointing that people who you love and count on don’t understand your child.
There are many ways you can respond to the situation and hopefully improve it.
In an ideal world, your family and friends would always be supportive of your child who learns and thinks differently. They’d be sensitive to your child’s needs—and to yours. They’d ask tactfully about how things are going at school and about the resources your child gets. And they would check in with you and offer ongoing support.
“You don’t have to apologize for wanting to stop rude people in their tracks.”
But family and friends aren’t always as supportive as they could be. Maybe your relatives and friends simply don’t understand the differences your child has. Or maybe they refuse to take a diagnosis seriously. They might see how your child talks or acts and make snap judgments. Or perhaps they loudly (and unfairly) judge your parenting.
Feeling Let Down by Friends and Family
- “They’ll never understand who my child truly is.”
- “They have the wrong idea about this common learning difference.”
- “I thought other kids might be hard to deal with. But I didn’t expect adults to be so insensitive.”
- “I’m disappointed our relationship wasn’t as strong as I’d thought.”
- “I thought I meant more to this person.”
Ways to Handle Unsupportive Friends and Family
It’s normal to feel sad, angry, or disappointed when friends and family aren’t supportive. But chances are they don’t mean to be insensitive and hurtful. Here are some things you can do to improve the situation:
Inform them. If not understanding your child’s challenges is the problem, try to gently educate your friend or relative. You don’t have to go into great detail about what your child experiences. Just give enough information for them to get a sense of the differences and what your family is doing to support your child.
Find allies. Talk first with the people in your family or friend circles who are supportive of your child. They can then spread the word, with your permission, to people who might be less sensitive.
Talk one-on-one. Speaking with someone personally makes it easier for you to have their full attention. And then they can ask you questions directly.
Give your child a script, too. Work with your child to come up with a short explanation to offer when someone is being insensitive: “I have trouble staying focused, and I’m working on that with my resource teacher. But you should see me on the soccer field!”
Confront them. If insensitive comments continue, it’s OK to be a little firmer. You don’t have to apologize for wanting to stop rude people in their tracks: “Thanks for your interest in Noah’s condition. But he’s our son and we’re going to deal with this ourselves. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk about him anymore.”
Avoid them. When all else fails, try not to interact with an offensive friend or relative. Instead, try to spend more time talking with people who recognize and appreciate your child’s strengths.
It helps to connect with other parents and caregivers who get what you’re going through. One way to do that is through our community. You may find that their experience is similar to yours, and that together you can trade stories and tips.
People who don’t understand your child’s learning and thinking differences may be insensitive.
Educate friends and relatives about the challenges. Do it gently at first, but get firmer if they seem to dismiss it.
You don’t have to put up with insensitive people. Spend more time with supportive people.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.