I have a precious nine year old friend who has autism. He and his family are so dear to me. I have known them since he was two and can vividly remember sitting around the kitchen table with his parents when they received the phone call from their psychologist telling them that their son was being diagnosed with autism. What a life changing day that was for them and for me, and one that I’m sure I will never forget.
As a child psychologist, I had often been on the other side of that table, being the one giving parents the news that their child met the diagnostic criteria for autism. This was the first time I experienced that moment from the viewpoint of the parent.
The one thing that I have learned from this family that has made the biggest impression on me, is that there is no way for any of us to truly understand what it is like to have a child with autism unless you actually have one. I think the same can be said for parents of children with any type of disorder or disease, whether psychological or medical, but it especially true with autism.
With the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder currently at 1 in 110 children*, it’s likely that all of us know of someone with the disorder. Given that likelihood, what can we as parents do to support other parents who have children with Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, or other Developmental Disabilities?
NBC’s hit show, Parenthood, features a boy named Max who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. This show truly offers a behind the scenes look at Autism Spectrum Disorders and the day to day impact on families. For me, this show is a must see each week.
Next, make an effort to include the child and their family in a way that meets their needs. Schedule a play date with your children or invite the family to a get together. Find out if there is anything you can do to make the outing or event as successful as possible. Children with autism are more than their diagnosis. Get to know them, their likes and dislikes, their hobbies and interests, and you’ll be certain to find more things in common than you ever realized!
Finally, and most importantly, don’t talk badly about children with special needs. These children and their families are people, too. The last thing they want is for their child or their family being made fun of because of their disorder.
My friend experienced this one night at the soccer field. She was sitting next to someone who was talking on their cell phone and making fun of a child with autism. Having a child with autism of her own, this of course hurt her deeply. We can’t ever forget that our words, whether intentionally or not, have the power to work for good or for bad. We can choose each and every day to make them work for good.
From one parent to another, I encourage you not to let the diagnosis of autism keep you from reaching out to a child or a family. I’m sure you’ll find that like me, you’ll be the one blessed beyond measure.
*Since the writing of this post in 2010, the incidence of autism spectrum disorder has climbed to 1 in 88 children.