I know that most of you don't have any experience or knowledge about people who are disabled, especially when the brain is involved in the disability. I try my hardest to remember this and not bite anyone's head off. Instead, I'm offering this post as an etiquette lesson of sorts.
1. Please don't treat my child differently unless you have been asked to. Parents are pretty quick to let you know if you are doing something that is going to aggravate or otherwise upset their special needs child. Just act normal until further notice.
2. Please don't assume that because a child has special needs that they cannot read, or enjoy an outing, or enjoy a birthday gift. While my kid does have a tendency to carry a gift around and talk to it for nearly a day before opening it, she is definitely enjoying it in a non-traditional way. Also, even if the child is not able to participate or read or anything else, us parents like to feel like our families still love our kids. Please do go ahead and write a message in the birthday card just like you do for our other children (who also can't read because they are too young). The absence of message is rather glaring for me and I find it hurtful. I imagine other parents probably feel the same way. I know that folks think that a disabled child probably doesn't know the difference, but that isn't necessarily true. Either way, feel free to just pretend for the parents' benefit if you have your doubts about the kid's ability to care about your actions.
3. Just because a child is autistic and/or very limited in their ability to speak, it doesn't mean they are unable to learn, care or participate. For the record, my child may not be able to hold a conversation, but she mastered Kindergarten and then moved on to first grade, so she’s technically at grade level. Oh, she also understands what you are saying so be careful, she holds a grudge.
So, in summary, ACT NORMAL and TREAT SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS LIKE REGULAR KIDS and DON’T ASSUME THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND THEM.
I hope this brief lesson was helpful. I know it can be awkward and no one wants to do the wrong thing. It will be okay.