Autism touches many lives and many families with statistics now reporting approximately 1 in 59 children receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Whether an autism diagnosis touches your family personally, a loved one or friend’s child, a child in the neighborhood, or a student in your child’s grade, having a support system in place as a parent is a must.
As a parent of a child with autism or any special need, recognize that you aren’t expected to manage this journey on your own…some days will be a piece of cake and some days will be harder; some days will be full of progress and so rewarding, while others may seem like progress isn’t moving quick enough according to your plan.
Similarly, be mindful if someone close to you such as a relative, friend, or neighbor has a child with autism whether they were recently or previously diagnosed; you can be an integral part of the support system for that family and child, even if your support is shown in little ways.
Here is a list of suggestions if you are seeking support as a parent of a child with autism or as you lend your support to others.
- Be the listening ear. As a parent, don’t be afraid to share how you are feeling with others and to ask someone to listen when you just need to talk aloud; processing everything yourself and keeping all your feelings in will lead to a heightened sense of stress and eventual burnout. You are not alone! As a friend, be there if they need to talk. It takes a lot of work for parents of children with autism to educate themselves about autism and what their children need. It can be overwhelming when a child is newly diagnosed, and a parent may need a listening ear.
- Offer social interaction. As a parent, remember that social interaction is so valuable. While it may not come naturally for your child with autism, help facilitate the interactions so that your child can grow more and more comfortable to have opportunities for play with peers. Let your friends and neighbors know that your child can benefit from these social opportunities with their kids. As a friend, offer activities that can promote social interaction for your friend or loved one’s child with autism. Visit the child or bring the child to places you know she enjoys. Try autism-friendly places in Tampa, like We Rock the Spectrum’s indoor kids’ gym, for example. Ask if it is ok for your children and their friends to visit and suggest inclusive games to play or projects to work on.
- Educate yourself! As a parent, it is perfectly OK to educate your friends and loved ones who may not know as much about an autism diagnosis and how this plays into your child’s needs and development. Empower others with knowledge, so they can better understand your child, what you are going through, and they can better lend their support to you. As a friend, learn what you can about the child’s diagnosis. Feeling understood can help parents of children with autism feel supported. Remember though, a child’s parents must make the ultimate decisions on which therapies and treatments to pursue…so try not to give your opinion unless asked.
- Easy-access fun! As a parent, asking a friend or family member to stay in-the-know about fun autism-friendly community activities will be a huge help to you, especially when they want to participate in some fun with your child; they too, may end up exploring and discovering new activities or places with their own children! As a friend, make a list or calendar of autism-friendly places or activities around town. Your friend can refer to this list or calendar when needed, rather than having to research on Google every time she wants to show her child a good time. There are many places such as children’s museums and movie theaters which host sensory-friendly days during the month to offer children with autism a less overwhelming and more manageable experience.
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