As a result of the challenges humanity currently faces, it’s become more difficult to feel connected to others. Reaching out in the midst of physical distancing and isolation can feel quite daunting, especially if you’re trying to support your neurodivergent loved one. That being said, I’ve compiled a few simple tips to help make it easier. But before reaching out, consider a few things:
- What level of trust and confidence do you have with the person you’re trying to support? Do they confide in you often?
- Do they want or need this from you, specifically?
- Are they open to receiving support right now? Do they have the time, emotional availability, or spoons?
- What kind of gesture will be best received and make them feel supported and loved? What are their boundaries when it comes to receiving support; Are there certain gestures they really appreciate, or outright hate?
- How much do I know about my loved one’s neurodivergence? Are there certain tools specific to their experience I should learn in order to best support them?
Evaluate your responses before offering yourself— it’ll be better in the long run for both parties. If you think they’ll be open to it, here are some suggestions:
Reach Out In Their Favorite Way
Consider how you typically communicate with your loved one. Is it through phone calls? Texts? Video calls? Memes or social media? Reaching out gently through their preferred mode of communication is a great way to show you’re there for them, or just thinking of them. Switching up your communication style, ie: a video call instead of the usual text message, can make them feel like you’re putting in more genuine effort to reach out. That being said, consider how your gestures might be interpreted differently than expected. For example, I find random phone calls alarming, even though I know it’s a loving way to “check in” with someone, whereas my grandparents find them endearing, especially since it’s our main mode of communication.
Ask Different Questions
The typical way to catch up with someone is by asking “How are you”, “How’s it going today”, “How are you feeling” etc. These questions can feel robotic if that’s what your interactions are typically comprised of. Instead, try asking follow-up questions, like “How’s that TV show you’ve been watching progressed?”, “How did that thing you were looking forward to go?”, or “How are your hobbies/projects coming along?”. This can make all the difference in making your loved one feel more seen and connected to you.
Reach Out in a Special Way
One of my favorite ways to keep in touch with friends that live in different states is by sending postcards. Receiving something in the mail can be quite exciting, especially if it’s a surprise! Consider sending letters, postcards, or even small gifts through the mail (Gift cards can be equally as exciting), even if they only live a block away. If your loved one has an affinity for a particular craft or hobby, a gift relevant to their interests can also be really uplifting.
Give Them Space
Haven’t heard from them despite having reached out, perhaps even more than once? Maybe your loved one just needs space. During times of high stress, things that are typically enjoyable and stimulating can become taxing, including social interactions. Give them the time they need to recalibrate and bounce back, no pressure.
Sometimes, we just need to vent. Rather than jumping the gun to offer a solution to their worries (something I’ve been guilty of before), try validating and sympathizing with them. To be heard can be more affirming than a solution, especially when the issue is something out of human control.
Some final advice to keep in mind:
Respect Your Own Boundaries and Limitations
Listen to your own needs first. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying of pouring into your own cup before someone else’s. There’s only so much you can do for your loved one; certain things are beyond your power, and that’s okay.
Sometimes the person you’re trying to support won’t be open to receiving. Or even if they are, they don’t have the spoons to respond or show their appreciation. Whatever the case may be, don’t take it personally if you reach out and receive no response. Give them time and space.
Remember, Everyone Is Different
There’s no such thing as a concrete guide to how to make your loved one feel special, seen, validated, and supported. The only way to know with certainty is to listen to them when they voice their needs, or simply ask! I’m sure they’ll appreciate it deeply. Good luck!