Autism parents are the people whose child or children are diagnosed with autism. They can be biological or adoptive parents, and sometimes it can be foster parents or step-parents.
If you know well or are close to an autism parent, you might be thinking to help them in some way if you can. The question is how to help them? There are no easy answers for how to help autism parents, but these are the things that you can do to be helpful, or to make yourself ready to help them when needed.
Listen to What Autism Parents Say
You will hear the news that the child is diagnosed with autism. The parents (most likely moms) will tell you how the diagnosis was initiated and confirmed. It depends on the child’s situation, and it might be quite challenging for you to understand in the beginning.
You can respect the diagnosed result, and you only need to be a good listener at this point. Questioning about the accuracy of the diagnosis or responding in disbelief is not helpful. Avoid saying “It can’t be true. It must be a misdiagnosis”. Do say “I understand it must be hard on you. Please let me know if you need any help”.
Sometimes autism parents just want to be heard. The topics can be anything related with autism from the stories about child’s behaviors, the problems with the available treatments to the displeasure with the therapists. They might not be a complainer by nature, but they need a secure place to display the things that bother them. You are a perfect listener by their choice. Try not to say “You need a better place to raise your child”
Do say “Please let me know if I can help to find more resources for you”.
It is so truthful that autism parents are under a lot more stress. You will hear what they have to do to manage their broken sleep every night, how they have disagreement in funding the therapies that are not covered, why they don’t have time for each other or for other children, or how they have trouble finding the sitter to go to a job function. The list can go on and on. Try not to say “It is normal. Most autism parents have the same experiences”.
Do say “I feel your pain. Please let me know I can come one day to babysit so you guys can get out a bit”.
You are a godsend, but babysitting for an autistic child can be very daunting for most people.
Learn More about the Autistic Child
It is a good start if you can do some research and learn a little general knowledge about autism. You will equip yourself with some basics about autism diagnose, autism treatments and how autism can affect a family life. You will be more comfortable to ask questions about the child afterwards.
During a conversation through a call or a get-together, you will be learning more about their autistic child. The list include but are not limited to:
If the child use any words to communicate and how the child communicate when they want something;
What activities the child likes to do and what toys they like to play;
How they react when staying with people who don’t live in the same house;
What kind of food they like or dislike, and if they are had allergy issues;
Are they are sensitive to touch or sound;
What are their sleeping habits?
The list can go on much longer depending on the child’s need.
A better way to learn more about the child is to interact with the child when visiting the family. This is a great timing of building the trust and connection with an autistic child. It might take more than once a while of frequency to achieve the bond, but it is certainly required to be able to babysit later.
The more you learn about the child, the better you will know about yourself if you are able to lend a hand when the autism parents need help.
Encourage Others to Accept Autism
Autism parents wish their child to be included and accepted in every place.
Encourage your child to play with the autistic child. This is one of the hardest things that an autistic child has to learn. To have a neurotypical child who is willing to interact with their autistic child would make the world of difference for autism parents, even though the outcome might not be as obvious as they hope.
Very often autism parents don’t like to bring their autistic child to stores. Besides the child might have uncontrollable damaging behaviors, the ill-judged stare often makes them most uncomfortable. If you have a chance to go to a store with an autistic child and the parent, you can help explain calmly when situation occurs. It is a great opportunity for other people to accept the autism.
Support Their Choice of the Lifestyle for the Child
Some autism parents choose GFCF(gluten free casein free) diet as a treatment for their child. To my sense, unless it is medically tested that the child has gluten and casein allergies, the choice of GFCF diet is a choice of lifestyle. It requires a great support system to be successful in this diet if they want to enjoy the choice.
You are not going to argue if that is a wise move or not. Autism parenting is more about that the autism parents make their best efforts to help their child to maximize their potentials.
If the family comes to your house for a meal, you do support their choice by either having some GFCF food items or asking them if you need to prepare something for the child. Most likely the autism parents bring their own special diet food, but your gesture shows your understanding and support for the autism parents.
Mentally Prepare When Things Happen When Inviting Them
Do mentally prepare that they might not be able to make it if you send them an “adult only” invitation. Sometimes the reason for them not to be able to go is just because they can’t find a proper sitter at that particular time.
Your understanding is important as you don’t just assume that they won’t be able to go to an “adult only” function and not invite them regardless. Sometimes they might be able to have a home care for the child so they can remain their social life to certain degrees.
Do consider that they might have to leave earlier in a family function when the family is invited. It is every autism parent’s nightmare if the child has a bad meltdown in the public or in a gathering. For autistic children, there are good chances they will have a meltdown if they are tired, bored, overwhelmed, or sometime just don’t like the food. Autism parents know their child’s behavioral patterns, and sometime it’s better for the setting if they leave earlier.
Do realize that is a part of autism behaviors if the child throws the food on the floor when they do not like what is given to him at your house. Being picky eaters are normal for autistic children, and most autism parents will only give what their children like or might eat, particularly when they are out. But that is not bullet-proved target. Different settings can trigger their behaviors differently. They can taste the slight differences between two brands of same kinds of food even though technically they are the same food. I can never forget those days when we had to bring our food to where ever we went so we didn’t have to see the food sitting on the plates or floors.
Make the Effort to Help
Make it as the priority to help them when asked, especially it only happens occasionally. It is nice of you as we learn earlier that you offer to help in the conversations. Now it is time to act.
Most autism parents don’t just ask anyone to help for their own leisure because they know that they don’t really have time to help other people back. When autism parents ask for your help, they much appreciate your effort to prioritize their need.
It is not bad if you say that you are going to check the schedule when asked if you can help on a certain time and date. But it is very unreliable if you never get back to them. The reason is obvious, but it is more hurtful for autism parents as they are more sensitive with giving and taking.
Use the same approaches that autism parents do when helping with the child. Autism parents make the rules and restriction for their child with good reasons and improving results. The rules and restrictions on the list can be what kinds of toys and how long they can play, what kind of snacks they can have or can’t have and what the bedtime schedules are.
It is not helpful if you do the opposite what the autism parents do with the child because you feel bad for the child. This is essential to every autism parent since they don’t want the helper to spoil their child or make more difficult for them later. For example, If the child is only allowed to earn 1 piece of Doritos for completing each skill on ABCmouse(an online learning platform), don’t give a bag of Doritos to the child because they really love the Doritos.
Use the Practical Approach
Most people like trendy stuff. Don’t be surprised that the autism parents who you know don’t follow trends as they used to. Pretty nails, hairdos, fashions or concerts might be no loner in their list for daily life. Respect their choices as they focus on searching the answers of treatments and future plans for their child.
Autism caring journey can totally change their perspectives in materials’ world. They will appreciate your practical approach. If you are buying a present for the child, think about the toys or things that might help the child and the parents. Buy a toy that is good for the child and can be used as a“baby sitter” So the parents don’t have to worry about the supervision.
When you are buying a present for the parents, buy solution products that make their life easier, so they can have extra time and energy to care for their child. Think about a convient Worx Leaf Vacuum that might save them a lot effort to clean the yard, not to meantion that it can be a great tool to teach an autistic child to use.
Pay Attention to the Extra Resources
Autism parents most likely do their best to find resources for their child, but they have limited time and opportunities to reach every resource around them. The extra help from friends and relatives for the extra resource sometime can benefit the family greatly.
My autistic twin boys would never have had the best basketball experience if my sister-in-law didn’t forward me the email from her church, whose basketball league program next to our town was looking for athletes with special needs.
You never know if the autism parents can use the resources, but your efforts of keeping them in mind and paying attentions to the surrounding resources can pay off in big ways. Whether the resources are related to a sport, music, social or respite program, or sometime even just an online learning platform from someone else who you know, autism parents can have extra places for their child to go or different activities for the child to participate if applicable.
It is an understatement that autism parents are really grateful for the extra resources from other people.
How to help autism parents are more about your learning and support. Learning about the autism and the child can help the autism parents by supporting their choices in the treatments, lifestyles and their plans for the child’s future. Your respite care is a bonus help for their special journeys.
Much like autism spectrum, every family can be very different in their autism care needs. There is no one cookie-cutter solution that can help every family.
Please reach out to us if you need to know more about how to help the autism parents who you know with their particular circumstances.