The next time we meet, I sense the tense atmosphere when your child has been told something about mine and no longer acts or talks to him like she used to. I don't know what you said specifically, but whatever it was, it wasn't the right thing. You may have meant well when you told your child that Frank has autism. But to a child, they don't know what to make of those words. To a child, they hear "he has something, be careful"
To the well meaning parents who wish to explain to their children the differences other children have, this is how I wished you would have explained:
When Sally comes home from school one day and tells you that a student in her class flaps his hands and makes loud noises, pause for a second. It's tempting to respond with, "Maybe he's autistic" and go about your day.
When you see a child following Maya around and copying her every move but unable to verbalize she wants to play, then your little Maya tells you, "Mommy she won't leave me alone!" pause for a second.
When you're visiting a relative and their child with autism is repeating scripts and pacing, Your son Rob will ask you about it. Pause before responding.
To Sally, every child has strengths and weaknesses and are unique. Do you know the student's name in your class? What else does he do? Have you tried to talk to him? Learn more about him. He may act differently, but he is still just like you. He has interests just like you. He likes certain foods and can't stand other foods just like you. He may do things differently because his body and mind function differently, that's okay. He's in your class because he's capable, he's smart. He's someone worth knowing just like the other students in your class. It may be harder and you may have to put in more effort, but he deserves a friendship and an equal opportunity, too.
To Maya, this is a friend who wants to play. She may not be able to tell you, so she copies you. Some kids can't use their words to tell you they want to be your friend, and that's okay. Everyone communicates differently. You may still talk to her, she might understand you.
To Rob, your cousin scripts and repeats, he finds it comforting. Everyone finds comfort in different ways, this is your cousin's way. Try talking to him. He might not look at you when you're talking, but he hears you. He likes to play with you. Work on building a friendship with him even if he does things differently. Everyone's brain works differently, and because of that we'll all act and see things differently. This doesn't mean you don't have similarities, you'll find that you're more similar than you are different. You may find he will teach you a lot you didn't know.
Think about how you'd answer if it were your child. Phrase your explanations in a way that doesn't emphasize the differences. This only alienates that child more. Put the magnifying glass on all the similarities your child has with that the person you're talking about. When you bridge the gap using similarities and speaking of the person using positive words, you will teach your children acceptance and tolerance of differences.
So the next time you're in a playground and your child looks at you with puzzled face about the words or actions of another child, pause for a second. Ask yourself, what if this was my child?