Dealing with an autism diagnosis can be incredibly challenging and emotionally taxing. For one, it signifies a tough road ahead for parents of young diagnosed children. The stress can extend far beyond that as well, as other family members are forced to adjust to a new lifestyle that can help accommodate their loved one on the spectrum. Despite the challenges of the experience, it can also be incredibly rewarding, as families work together to support their loved one in becoming an independent and happy individual.
If you find yourself looking for ways to support the family of a child on the spectrum, you are not alone. Many community members feel called to be allies for their friends, and assist in anyway that they can. In this post, we’ll break down some of the ways you can support the family of a child on the autism spectrum while being mindful of their needs and situation.
1. Be Present
Though this may sound simple, being present for a family with a child on the spectrum can make a world of difference. Receiving an autism diagnosis can be an isolating experience for families, making them feel like they are alone in their struggles. Though this is not the case, and a vast network of support exists for families experiencing this pain, sometimes all it takes is a close friend being physically and emotionally present to change that mindset and help dissolve that feeling of isolation.
2. Offer a Safe Space
If you are able, take the time to make your environment a safe space for the family and child on the spectrum. Read up on how to make your home autism or sensory-friendly, and invite the family over. Having somewhere other than home, school or therapy to escape to can be an important source of help.
3. Talk and Listen
Most families with a child on the spectrum are more than happy to share about their experiences. In fact, it can often be therapeutic to have a space to share stories and feelings. Though the burden shouldn’t be on you, if you can lend an ear to listen and ask thoughtful questions, you should.
Alternatively, you can find a support group or other local resources and pass along that information to the family in need. It’s also possible the family won’t want to discuss a particular topic. After all, it is easy for a diagnosis to take the spotlight in their daily conversations. In those cases, we recommend focusing on a different mutual interest, and being a source of support that helps families take their mind off of the challenges they face daily. Either way, open and honest communication is crucial.
4. Keep Calm, and Don’t Judge
Only families with a child on the spectrum truly know what it’s like to deal with the challenges a diagnosis brings along. They may face judgement, ridicule, and other harsh reactions to their child’s behavior and development. One of the simplest ways to bring comfort to this family is to remain calm, and react without judgement. That means listening and interacting with the family and child in a way that suits their needs best. Try not to offer criticism, even if constructive unless you are sure they need to hear it. This is a crucial part of being an ally and creating a safe space for them.
5. Learn how Best to Interact with the Child
No two people on the autism spectrum are the same. It may take time to learn the ins and outs of how best to interact and support the child, but if you’re unsure, ask questions and learn what works best. This is an excellent way to show the family you care and practice the things they are working on with their child.
Ultimately, the fact that you are looking for ways to support them says a lot about how much you care. Be sure to communicate with the family as much or as little as they need, and extend a helping hand whenever you can. Keeping them in mind while you search for resources, go shopping, and going about your routine can do a lot for a family in need.