Ten ways to help a family with a child with autism
When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents are usually concerned about finding the necessary services for rehabilitation, doctors, schools, and various specialists in working with children. And it often happens what we least expect at this moment – changing relationships with friends, relatives and neighbors. Someone will provide support, help to the best of their abilities and hug our child, regardless of the diagnosis. But there is one who will quietly stand aside, or even stop communicating altogether.
What happens when you find out that your child’s friend, relative or neighbor’s child has been diagnosed with autism? How can you help your child and his parents? There are many ways to help your loved ones, starting with the words of support and ending with the organization of joint games with other children. Here are ten ways to help a family raising a child with autism:
1. Just be near
It sounds simple enough, but the parents of a child with autism need a person to be around who can ask the question “how are you?”, And who sometimes wonders about the same thing. You are not an expert and you may not know all the terms associated with autism, but be prepared for the fact that parents want to talk about their child.
It often happens that the diagnosis of “autism” pushes us and our children into isolation. Not that we would like to isolate ourselves, we are often so busy with the treatment and rehabilitation of the child that we simply do not have time for anything else. The offer to stop for a cup of coffee or to meet and just talk is one of the best ways to help your friend get out of the dome of autism and overcome isolation.
2. Talk about autism. How?
To speak or not to speak? That is the question. The answer to it is: “Depending on the situation.” Most parents whose children have autism spectrum disorders love to talk about autism. However, some parents do not want to disclose the diagnosis, talk about autism and how it manifests itself in their child. Some parents may be at the stage of denying the diagnosis and even do not want to hear this word, but even more so to discuss this topic.
So what can you do as a friend? If your acquaintance himself raises the topic of autism, ask how the child is doing. Even if your friend does not pronounce this word on “A”, he will appreciate your sincere interest, and autism will not be mentioned. If your friend does not hide the diagnosis, you should certainly show interest in both the child and the topic of autism. After all, we, the parents of children with autism, never take the development of our child for granted, and are proud of any, even the smallest, achievement. The moments of communication with friends become especially valuable for us when we understand that friends are worried about our child.
3. What does a child with autism look like?
This question seems strange. But I remember moments when someone, seeing my son, said something like: “And you can’t say that he has autism” or “You cannot see from him that he has autism”. Interestingly, autism does not imply any outward signs. Yes, some children may have specific behavior or communicative features, but all children are very different. Therefore, if someone tells me that he has experience working with autistic children, I understand that this does not guarantee this person’s ability to understand my child and find an approach to him.
If you know, are watching or teaching another child with autism, it is better not to make comparisons with the child you just met. I would also advise to refrain from commenting on how you think an autistic child should look. Of course, it’s good that you are looking for signs of autism, but the best approach is to find the key to the individuality of each child.
It is difficult to explain how this happens and why autism manifests itself in every child in its own way. But when your autistic child has 10 friends with Asperger Syndrome, it becomes obvious to you that each of them is unique in their talents and interests.
If you asked me when Tyler was diagnosed at 2 years old, that he would be at 12, I could not answer you … and the doctors could not. I was asked many times: “What is the forecast? Maybe he will outgrow autism? Will he go to college? ” In fact, in most cases we do not know what the forecast is, and for us this is a very delicate topic. After all, we do not know what will happen next. The future is the unknown, and it can be frightening.
Unlike parents of neurotypical children who are making plans for college or vocational education, we often do not know at what educational, social and behavioral level our children will be when they grow up. Can we plan for the future? Yes, but we also take into account the unknown variables. In the future, our child may go to college, continue education, and maybe not. We are often not even sure if our child will be independent enough to live independently. We hope for independence, but the reality in the future may be a house for living together. Or our child will live with us until the end of our days.
Many of us worry about what will happen to our child if something happens to us. And this is also a difficult topic. Therefore, if your friend himself spoke about the forecast for the future, discuss it with him. But keep in mind that some parents are not ready to discuss this issue.
Recently in the news are increasingly flashed stories related to autism. Being a parent of a child with autism, I am very grateful to friends and relatives when they find some information about autism and send it to me. If your friend is ready for an open discussion of autism, send him the information you have come to, and he will appreciate this manifestation of your concern. If our child is diagnosed with autism, it does not mean that we know all the latest news from this sphere.
My only warning on this issue: keep in mind that parents may have a different opinion on treatment issues or on the causes of autism. As a result, parents sometimes sharply react to articles, research, and
6. Games with friends
I remember when my son was diagnosed with autism, my friends had children of the same age as Tyler. It was important for my son to be in the company of neurotypical children. However, some friends behaved as if autism was contagious, and did not want their children to play with my son. I remember how the husband of one of my good friends expressed displeasure with my son and his autism. After that, I never invited them with children, because I felt that the husband of a friend did not want my son to play with them. I was faced with a cruel reality – while some people accept our children, others are clearly not.
What can you do? If you have a girlfriend who is raising a child with autism, invite her and the children to visit so that the children can play together. Would this be a normal meeting where children play together? Maybe yes, maybe not. It depends on the children themselves. Even if the usual joint game does not happen, such a meeting will enable the child with autism to adopt social behavior and skills from other children. For some neurotypical children, such a meeting can be a lesson in acceptance and tolerance for people who differ from others. Learning acceptance is easiest through practice. So for a neurotypical child there is a benefit. For both families, this can be a good experience.
7. Games with neighbor children
When it comes to autism, being a good neighbor means more than keeping your yard clean or borrow a cup of sugar. If you have children of the same age with your neighbors, invite them to visit, so that children can play together. It is better to invite the child along with the parent to find out how autism is expressed in this particular child, and how you can help organize the joint play of children.
It is important to note that many children with autism do not know how to make friends and maintain friendships, maintain a conversation and engage in a group of children. It means, most likely, you will need your help to establish friendly relations and communication between your child and a child with autism. In addition, many of our children function better in a structured environment. If you organize a meeting well, develop a specific action plan, it will help both children have a good time.
8. Ability to relax
Regardless of the age of a child with autism, it is difficult for his parents to find an opportunity to rest. Many parents of children with disabilities are fully absorbed in their daily duties. Some children with autism disorders do not sleep well at night, which further depletes the strength of their parents.
However, when you have a child with special needs, it can be difficult to find someone who can be trusted to take care of him. For example, I easily found a teenage girl next door who looked after my 4-year-old neurotypical daughter. But when my son with autism was at this age, it was absolutely impossible to leave him under the supervision of an unprepared young girl. At that time, my son spoke only a few words and had many behavioral peculiarities, so that I could only trust him to my parents or another adult.
What follows from this if you are a friend or relative? The offer of a short respite while a trusted friend or relative who knows how to interact with the child sits with the child will be greeted with delight. Whether it will be one hour or one evening, any offer will be a priceless gift for your friend. It seems to be simple courtesy, but for exhausted parents a few hours to go shopping or just to spend time together is a luxury.
9. Do not judge
The disapproving look in the store, the remark of a relative that “it is necessary to raise a child better” – most parents of children with autism somehow become the object of condemnation. Just imagine: we live as if in an aquarium – countless speech therapists and therapists at home, endless visits to doctors. Therefore, often the “advice” of people who do not have a child with autism can cause us to lose patience. Even if you are confident in the constructiveness of your criticism, keep in mind that such statements can easily destroy your relationship with a friend.
Until you stay in our skin, you will never understand what it is to raise a child with autism. Most people instinctively understand that it is impossible to condemn, but it still happens. And as soon as this has happened, the damage may be irreparable.
Some parents, like me, openly talk about the diagnosis of the child. Others do not want to discuss it with anyone, except perhaps close friends and relatives. And at the opposite end of the adoption scale are parents who can deny the diagnosis and will not discuss it with anyone.
But regardless of whether we talk about our children or autism, we expect privacy. If we are frank with friends and relatives, it does not mean that we want them to tell others about our children and our other affairs. Confidentiality is especially important for parents who choose not to talk about their child’s diagnosis. It would seem that common sense tells us that you should not gossip about other people’s children, but it is not unremarkable to remind you that if we tell you about something, please do not tell anyone about it without our permission.
You may encounter many people with autism and families facing this problem throughout your life. If your choice is to become part of a solution to a problem, by supporting a friend, relative or neighbor, then try to study a certain child, and not the issue of autism in general. Choose to accept children with disabilities and tell your children that they can help your child with autism by becoming their friend.
After my son was diagnosed with autism, I realized that friendship can be very fragile. It’s easy to be a friend when everything is fine. And only in difficult times can we understand who our real friend is. I am eternally grateful to those friends and relatives who supported our family after we learned about the son’s diagnosis. They decided that they would accept my son as he is and help us in any way possible. By deciding to support a family that is faced with the problem of autism, you bring the greatest gift. And perhaps your kindness and nobility will become a priceless reward for you.
“The friend’s most difficult task is to be understanding when you don’t understand,” – Robert Brault