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 but I hope you know I 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 about it? How did that go?” 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 a bit awkward…” This isn’t either.
“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.
“Are you sure/sure it’s not [something else]…?” You can be sure anyone who is telling you this information has given this plenty of thought, and even if not, now is not the time.
“Is that like dyslexia?” See the questions above for more on the differences between different 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.
“Is it caused by vaccines/medicines?” No, it isn’t. Dyspraxia isn’t a disease, and won’t kill you. Medicines and vaccinations prevent diseases, which can kill you.
“But you’re clever/good-looking/nice…!” None of these diminish anyone’s difficulties, and dyspraxia isn’t something you deserve for being unkind or unattractive.
“You’re so inspirational and brave!” This can sound very patronising. They’re not here to inspire you; they’re here to live, just like you are. If you want to be nice, give specific compliments, the way you would to any other person.
“Oh no! I was hoping we might get it on, but you’ve got some terrible disease…!” You may not say this, but people know when you’re thinking it. Not only is it insulting to the person you’re speaking to, but to disabled or ill people everywhere, who can and do find love like everyone else.
What 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.
“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.
“Oh, my ex had that…!” This might give the impression that the end of the relationship had something to do with dyspraxia. If it did, now is not a good time to say so.
“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.
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 aren’t widely 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.