April is National Autism Awareness month. Even if you don’t have a child who is on the autism spectrum, you probably know someone who does. I hope to encourage mamas who have a friend with a child on the autism spectrum and who want to provide some support and love for those families affected by autism.
Hopefully this will help you to be sensitive to a child with autism uniquely, while encouraging and including their family in everyday life.
While I certainly don’t have all the answers or ideas for each family’s specific situation, I do have personal experience as we were knee deep in our autism journey.
Here are some things that helped when I felt completely isolated from the rest of the mom world:
Don’t compare or say “He/She seems so normal”
There is a saying out there “If you have met one person with Autism, then you have met one person with Autism.” Do not compare what you know of the autism spectrum disorder to the individual who has the diagnosis.
It is a spectrum for a reason and ranges from severe to high functioning. Let the ones who know them best determine where the child falls. Saying things like, “He/she seems so normal”, may seem like a compliment, but rather it minimizes what the child and family are going through.
Instead, say, “I’m Here for You” and “Love You” whether through words or actions!
Bring a coffee/tea date to her
It’s hard for moms to get out and go to coffee shops/really engage in conversations when they have a child with autism, so sometimes it’s easier to bring coffee/tea to them where the environment is safe and secure. I am so thankful I have friends who are sensitive to where my son was the most comfortable and sacrificially take this into account when we get together.
*Even a new face at home may be too much for some kiddos to handle so just offer to drop one off if that’s the case. A little gesture and love will sure renew a struggling mama!
Ask questions and listen
Get to know the specific struggles of the child/family. In my opinion this is the most important, and all the rest will come naturally if you make an effort to understand and learn about what the family is experiencing. Ask questions and listen to get to know the child. Then you can empathize and offer support based on their individual needs.
I can’t stress enough to NOT COMPARE one child with autism to another or even what you have read and apply it to another’s situation. Autism is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis.
Educate your children on autism
We have some good friends who from the beginning explained to their children how Easton liked to play differently and explained/shared what his passions were (numbers). When we get together they always find a way to incorporate his passions and understanding into the play. This not only provided their girls with sacrificial playing but provided a social situation and interaction that was huge for my son and a therapy in itself.
I remember when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my son’s journey, my time, energy, and heart was consumed by therapies, research, IEP plans, doctor appointments, etc. But that didn’t mean my heart didn’t long for mom connections. The feeling of isolation was at an all-time high; I just didn’t have one more ounce of energy to initiate or plan a play date or call a friend. I certainly felt loved and appreciated when someone else tried to include us in a play date or sent an encouraging text.
Be sensitive to the child’s routine/schedule
Routines and knowing what is next can drastically minimize behavior components related with autism. Be sensitive to the family’s routine and take this into account when planning play dates or get togethers. This also includes family traditions and holidays. Holidays, if putting the child’s best interest first, will look differently for most families who are on the spectrum.
There are some great resources and kits you can request on the Autism Speaks Website that will provide more specific guidance on ways you can support a loved one, whether you’re a grandparent, friend, sibling, etc.