Monday, February 20, 2017

How You Can Help Friends and Family With Autistic or Special Needs Children

Welcome to AuSumness!

On our road to finding the awesome in Autism, we often come across bumps or even broken bridges. We sometimes meander down dark roads, but it's essential to keep looking for the light.  We hope, through our entries on this blog to give encouragement, help and to let you know, you are not alone.

Last week, we talked about the destructive side of autism.  Today, we're looking at ways that friends and family can help us with our autistic children.

Acceptance:  For us, things started getting a lot better when people started accepting that our children have Autism.  We were continuously accused, by those we loved, that we were spoiling our children or not feeding them properly or they were not getting enough sleep or the worst, "they just HAVE to learn".

Especially, when a diagnosis has been given, it's time to take off the gloves and jump in and help.  Having children with special needs is incredibly taxing.  Mentally, physically and emotionally draining to the point where the parents or caregivers can become sick themselves.

Sympathy:  It's always nice to hear, "I can't even imagine what it would be like" or "It must be very difficult".  This is so much better than, suck it up, life goes on or everyone's got it rough..."  The chances are, those parents are hearing that from most other people anyway, so let's mix it up.  It's often relieving to hear these things.  The other things just infuriate or exasperate already spent emotions.

Don't take it personally:  This is a big one and I'll try my best to explain.  Often, autistic people can say things that might hurt your feelings or act in a way that makes YOU feel uncomfortable.  Never do this.  Do not let it get to you.  It's not an excuse and there certainly isn't anything wrong letting that person know, that you feel sad, unloved or embarrassed, but do not expect them to understand.

For example, I thought my mother-in-law might cry when my son got very upset at her choice of gifts.  For one, I told her I'd be happy to buy things I know he likes and she could reimburse me.  I've reminded her that money gifts are not well accepted and that most of the time, the boys need TIME to get to know their gifts before they start liking them.  Which brings us to the next tip.

Listen:  Listening is something we can all do better.  Take notes if you have to.  If you are going to ask about things you can do to help, make sure you listen to what they say.  When your friends are venting, zone in on things that really bother them and see if there might be a way to step in.  Sometimes just listening silently is helpful.

Ignore unpleasant behaviour:  If only most people would do this.  Look at the bigger picture.  How are evil stares or even complaints, going to change anything?  Just focus on the parents and give them your attention, not the child's.  Ignoring ill behaviour can even be advantageous at times.

Patience:  It is very, very difficult for some parents of autistic children to give you, their full attention.  It might not even be safe to do that.  Try your best not to think of yourself if you find you're in a position like this.  I know many friends and family cannot stand the constant interruption of my kids or me having to stop conversation to address a problem.  It bothers us, too.  It bothers us that we can't sit and speak for even just a couple of minutes without interruption and it also bothers us that our friends and family get upset when this happens.

Offer to babysit:  I realise, that this one is a doozy.  For many parents and caretakers of those with special needs a babysitter is not even an option!  For years my husband and I couldn't go out or rather, get away from all of the chaos, sadness and uncertainty.  Not even for a few hours.  There are very few people out there wanting to fill our shoes and have these kids for a couple of hours.  I totally get it.  If it is something that you absolutely could never dream of, then don't offer.

Include:  Another thing one might not consider that parents and caregivers of special needs kids go through is inclusion.  My high functioning son gets to do a lot of outside activities.  He goes to parties, stays the night with friends and does sports, but my youngest has NEVER slept at a friend's house and when my older son's friends come to play JJ is often not included in their games.  There are very little groups or extra curricular activities for special needs kids.  If there is ever an opportunity for you to include that person, then it would certainly be appreciated.  It would be an excellent learning experience for that person and it would be one fine example to others.

So many times, people assume that the autistic person is not listening or realise what's going on around them, but it is more than likely that they are.  Many autistic people do not look into your eyes or at you or do anything for you to know that they are paying attention and or following the conversation.  Do not act as if they are not there.  It's insulting and it hurts which is how you might also feel by their lack of interaction with you.  Talking about them, with them right there, in a negative way is a big time no, no.

Try your best not to take it personal.  Try to not make it all about you.

No pity party, please:  When I asked around to other friends who have special needs children, they were pretty passionate about their kid's uniqueness and do not consider it in any way shape or form as something negative.  Though, I do not feel the same, I can see why some might look at it like this.  Some folks feel like they were chosen to have children like this.  Can't say I agree with that either, but we all look at things differently and it is something to consider when approaching people about the issue.

I hope these tips have been helpful.  If you have anything helpful to add, join our group on Facebook or leave something positive in the comments.

Best of luck!

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