When my nephew was born, he loved to smile and interact with his parents, or anyone who would come over. At times he would cry or not engage, but what baby doesn’t do these things at one point during infancy? When he turned two, though, there was a shift. Questions about certain patterns my nephew displayed became a concern. He became distant, at times flapped his hands, and avoided eye contact. Working in the social service field, it was difficult to see these symptoms, and I shared with my brother and his wife that maybe an evaluation should be completed for autism. This was their first child, first time experiencing parenthood and I knew it would be devastating news that their child might be on the spectrum. I shared as kindly as I could with them why having an evaluation was a good idea, and they decided to take the step of having their son assessed, which led to a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Here are three ways they shared that can help friends and family provide support to parents with children on the spectrum.
How are you?
The evaluation process was stressful for my brother and sister-in-law, and the best thing I could do was show them love and compassion. They didn’t need to hear me questioning, “How many assessments were completed this week?” or “When will you find out the results of the test?” What they needed was support and kindness during the process. Asking if there’s a need for help in any area of the home or with their child was more important to them than knowing the findings of any report. Bringing a meal, making a phone call to check in, or spending time with the child are some great ways to support.
I’m not in denial, and you shouldn’t be either.
Acknowledging and accepting the diagnosis of autism can be hard for parents but what can make things even harder is having family members say, “Oh, he’s fine the way he is,” and “Just wait to see if things will get better.” Getting a second or even a third opinion never hurts and sometimes it may be best to have more than one evaluation completed when one starts the process of evaluating their child. When it has been confirmed that your niece, nephew, cousin or friend’s child has autism, the best thing you can do is say, “I’m here for you and want to help.” Sometimes just listening or comforting parents while they think about how things might change at home is the best thing one can do.
Whether it’s needing extra money for your wedding, finding someone to babysit for a date night or wanting a day of self-care, it’s never easy to ask someone to take over for a break. Why? We don’t want people to think we can’t handle it all. Or maybe we fear others will think problems exist in the home when they don’t. It’s hard for those in need to ask for help, so be proactive about offering a hand. Having a child with special needs can require a lot of time focusing and helping with their activities of daily living, managing and understanding different behaviors amongst other things. Helping with a chore while mom and dad take a break can go a long way.
My nephew is 10 years old now and there has been much improvement with the help of his specialized school and therapy. During Autism Awareness Month, let’s remember how we can give a hand to a parent who may need help at home or just need someone to talk to.