What to say
The best way to react to someone is to focus on their feelings rather than your own, and to make them feel at ease, rather than overload them with questions:
“Thank you for telling me.”
“That’s interesting to hear.”
“I’m glad you felt you could tell me. I know it can be hard to share things.”
“If there’s ever anything I need to know to help you, let me know.”
“Do you want to talk right now?”
“You can always talk to me, or write to me.”
“I know we’re both very busy and I’m not always so good at getting back to you, but I do care about you.”
“Do you need me to do anything, or just listen?”
“I’d love to know more. Do send me any links or books that would be helpful to read/listen to?”
“Have you spoken to anyone else? How have they been about it?” It’s useful to know whether or not they’ve told anyone you both know, or who you might get to know in future – especially if that includes people they know professionally. Even if you aren’t very close or have few people in common, it can be useful to have an idea of how open they are with other people in their life.
“Sorry, have I got this right…?” We all speak as we think sometimes. If you make someone uncomfortable, it’s not the end of the world. But they will appreciate you noticing and being thoughtful.
What not to say
The best ways not to react are focusing on your own feelings, or trying to come up with solutions if you’re not qualified to do so.
“Oh…” *awkward pause* / “Oh God, I’m so sorry…!” It’s not a tragedy. No-one has died or is going to. And never, ever say “If I were you, I’d kill myself” to any disabled person. (Yes, people do. A lot).
“So what?” / “Why are you telling me?” / “What’s that supposed to mean?” You don’t need to pity someone, but being dismissive is rude and insulting.
“You don’t look it! / I’d never have guessed!” This isn’t a compliment.
“I’d never have guessed, I just thought you were awkward sometimes…” This isn’t a compliment, or reassuring.
“How long have you had it?” / How did you get it?” Neurodiversity is something you’re born with; not something you catch like a cold. And no, it doesn’t come from medicines, or vaccinations. Dyspraxia isn’t a disease, and won’t kill you. Medicines and vaccinations prevent diseases which can kill you.
“Are you sure / sure it’s not [something else]…?” You can be sure anyone who is telling you this information has given it plenty of thought. Don’t doubt or belittle them.
“Is that like dyslexia?” See the questions above for more on the differences between different neurodiverse conditions.
“Is there a cure or treatment? / Have you tried…?” It can’t be cured or treated. It can be supported. And you can bet that they’ve tried anything it’s taken you seconds to suggest.
“But you’re so clever/good-looking etc, you’ve got nothing to worry about!” None of these diminish things that are difficult for someone. Nor is it a punishment for being ugly or unclever.
“You’re so inspirational and brave!” They’re not here to inspire you; they’re here to live, just like you are. Tell them they’re funny, hot or good at Scrabble. Tell them they’ve done well at getting through a particularly tough experience. But “brave” often sounds patronsing.
“Oh no, I was hoping we might get it on! Now you’re telling me you’ve got some terrible disease…” You may not say this, but we know when you’re thinking it. It’s not just insulting to us; but to other disabled or chronically-ill people who can and do find love like everyone else. Of course, some relationships take more work than others, and you can be honest with yourself about whether you can do the work. But try not to make your vanishing libido too obvious…
Things to take care over
“What do you want me to do/say?” They might not know this immediately. Rather than putting them on the spot, it’s best to encourage them to tell you more on a need-to-know basis.
“Oh, my ex had that…!” Need I say more?
“Is it caused by…?” It’s natural to ask this if you’re from a medical background. But we don’t really know what causes dyspraxia or neurodiversity, and there probably isn’t a single cause. Rather than the cause, it’s best to focus on someone’s strengths, and how you can help with their challenges.
“What do you get for that then?” Some children do get support (‘some’ being the operative word). Most adults have had very little, and the assumption they get support, or state benefits (let alone freebies and perks) is painfully annoying.
Immediate, detailed questions about how and when someone was diagnosed. There’s nothing wrong with asking in itself, but depending on when and how you ask, it can come across as gatekeeping or not believing someone. Unlike autism and ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia in adults are rarely diagnosed on the NHS.
Making very direct or intimate observations about someone. People often pick up on something we do and want to know whether it’s “A dyspraxic thing” or not. Other neurodiverse people do this because they’re excited to recognise someone similar. I’ve probably done it myself. But bear in mind we may be particularly sensitive to people drawing attention to us, or pointing things out to us, and it can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t really know someone. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should pretend not to notice while they step into oncoming traffic, or walk into a serious meeting with yoghurt on their face, but try to be gentle and tactful about it, and try not to interrupt someone.