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“Did you talk to them about Kelsey?”

That always became a common refrain around the house when either myself or my brother were potentially going to start dating someone. To be fair, we both married women that we met during our high school years, so it’s not like this was a regular occurrence. But, because there were only a handful of introductions like these, they became memorable. That moment when, undoubtedly, our parents would ask if we had explained to a potential partner that our sister is autistic.

It can be stressful, and quite honestly, a bit jarring. Because of how our family raised us, I spend very little time thinking about Kelsey being ‘different.’ So, when you’re put in a position where you have to explain to someone that meeting one of your siblings will be ‘different’ – it’s a quick reconfiguration of what that person is stepping into.

For us, it’s just life.

But for someone who didn’t grow up around it, who doesn’t know the ‘-ism’s’ that your sibling has, it can be unnerving. They don’t know exactly what they’re walking into when they come and meet the family.

The experiences that I had ran through the entire scale. Some people were excited and built up the moment to meet Kelsey, others were timid and a bit unsure. But in each moment, there was kindness that was shared.

No one ran out kicking and screaming and there was nothing scarring from Kelsey, or to be fair, anyone in our household, that would keep revisiting us deep into the future.

So, let’s say you are ready to introduce that special person in your life to your autistic sibling. What should you do and what shouldn’t you do?

Don’t overwhelm them.

Ten times out of ten, we overwork and overanalyze the situation in our own heads and make it a bigger deal than it needs to be. There is even a tendency to go into every single detail to try and prepare that person for what they’re walking into. The fact of the matter is, you’re making it more stressful on everyone by being in ‘over prep’ mode. Avoid the pressure of added stress by skipping the details that can clearly wait for another day.

Let them have their own experience.

Everyone deserves to walk in and walk away with their own unique perspective on what took place. It doesn’t have to be your version of perfect, or anyone else’s vision of that as well. I can remember countless times thinking that it was important to demonstrate how we were ‘silly’ with Kelsey, letting the person see that there was levity in all of this. But that wasn’t for me to shape, and in some ways, it forced that person to only see that lens we were providing. Maybe they had serious questions that they wanted to ask, but did we make or leave the right amount of room for them?

Remember that mistakes are okay!

It can become an unbearable pressure to talk about mannerisms or habits that might not sit well with your sibling. For example, Kelsey can get frustrated and squeeze her hands together when you try to talk to her for a long period of time. She prefers a short interaction and to get back to her daily routines. The stress in that preparation can become unbearable, so – skip it! It’s okay to know that boundaries will be tested on all sides when those first meetings happen. If your goal is to have this person be a reoccurring figure in your life, then give them the space to make that relationship unique for themselves. As in any relationship you have, it’s okay to make mistakes.

It’s going to feel awkward; it’s going to feel clunky, but at the end of the day allowing everyone room to breathe will help everyone learn and grow along the way.

Erik James Rancatore is the Agency PR and Media Relations Director for Bader Rutter. His career has spanned marketing, communications, branding and public affairs, where he has helped shape and lead campaigns from the recreational boating industry to nuclear science and state government for well over a decade. He holds a M.A. in Media and Communications from Northeastern Illinois University.

He and his wife Megan have been together for over 18 years, and they have two children that they adore, Flynn (6) and Poppy (2). Of course, he’s also the proud big brother of Kelsey.