I have a close friend whose child was diagnosed with Autism when he was in preschool. Over the years I’ve learned a lot from this family, but one thing has made the biggest impression on me both as a mom and a child psychologist. It’s simply this: 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.
With the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) recently changing from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50 children, it’s likely that all of us know someone impacted by this disorder. Given that likelihood, what can we do to support children with Autism and their families? I guarantee that if you walk in their shoes for just a little while you’ll have a much greater understanding and appreciation of both the joys and the struggles of Autism. Here’s how:
First, educate yourself about Autism. According to the Autism Speaks website, Autism is “characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” Boys are four to five times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls. Despite difficulties with social interactions and communication, many individuals with Autism “excel in visual skills, music, math and art.” Websites like AutismSpeaks.org and Autism-Society.org both offer reliable and up to date information about Autism. Also, NBC’s hit show, Parenthood, features a boy named Max who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. This show offers a realistic portrayal of Autism Spectrum Disorders and their day to day impact on families.
Next, take what you’ve learned about Autism and share it with your kids. There are several great books geared for kids that can help get the conversation started and keep it going. Two of my favorites are The Autism Acceptance Book and My Friend Has Autism. All kids need friends, and children with Autism are no exception. Boys and girls with Autism are especially susceptible to being bullied, so it’s important to teach our kids from an early age how to be a friend to their peers with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
If your child has a classmate or peer with Autism, arrange a play date or invite the family over. Find out if there is anything you or your kids 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. 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.
And last but not least, get involved! April is Autism Awareness Month. In your community there are lots of ways to show your support for children and families living with Autism. For example, on April 2 you can promote Autism Awareness by wearing blue or displaying a blue light bulb by your front door for Light It Up Blue day hosted by Autism Speaks. Or, you and your family can participate in one of the many walks supporting Autism happening in April all over the country. Whatever you decide to do, I’m sure you’ll find that like me, you’ll be the one blessed beyond measure.
Click here for the free e-book Sticks and Stones: Helping Your Child With Autism Spectrum Disorders Cope With Bullying.