On my journey, I have been blessed to have some really genuine souls who have been like angels for me. Surprisingly, they don’t have angel wings and look exactly like you and me! Then, what makes them different? How do they make life a bit easier? And, what can you do, to be in that category for someone you care for.
Here are my recommendations –
1. Invite our kids for play-dates
If you have a friend who has a child with autism, invite them for play. Will it be a typical play-date? I don’t know.
Most kids on the spectrum struggle with creating and maintaining friendships, engaging in conversations, or interacting within a group of children. They need support in facilitating the friendship and communication with your child.
It may not go as per the plan but it will be an opportunity for a child with autism to learn typical social skills from your children. While your kids will learn how to interact and accommodate people who are different from them. Inclusion is a lesson that can’t be learned from textbooks, one has to have the real time exposure to understand its dynamics.
Note: Autism is not contagious.
2. Spend time with us
An autism diagnosis pushes the parents into isolation. It is not that we want it but we often get socially isolated; partly because of the busy schedule that autism comes with and largely because of the unwelcoming vibes that we get from people around.
Inviting your friend to come over for a cup of coffee or just to talk, can be one of the best ways to help them get out of their autism bubble. I am sure most of us do not have more than two close friends who have kids with autism. Meeting them once in a year should not be a big ask for anyone.
Note: If a parent of a child with autism approaches you to go for a movie / lunch / dinner; please don’t say no. It doesn’t happen too often.
3. Be there when we need support
It may sound obvious but usually, parents of kids with autism find themselves alone. I understand that we all have busy lives and it’s difficult to find time for others but it will be great if you could offer help, at least on a bad day. After all, we are also normal human beings with our own cycles of bad health and general issues. Our kids can’t appreciate that but I am sure you can.
Note: “Not my circus, not my monkeys” is not really the best of philosophies in such cases. Did I mention, I actually heard this idiom once from someone.
4. Listen and make a genuine attempt to understand
All the parents of children with autism need someone who would listen and ask how they are doing. You may not understand all the autism jargon, but a genuine attempt to understand is all we want. “I am here if you want to talk”, is probably the best thing you can say to a friend who has a kid with autism.
Note: Lack of human connection can drive a parent with special kids mad. Not the best analogy but remember that chair scene from “Dear Zindagi” where Alia Bhatt is talking to a chair and says, “you are different from everyone else, the best thing about you is that you listen; I wish there were more people like you”. We feel like this most of the times.
5. Let your kids play with special kids whenever you bump into them
Whether you personally know someone with challenges or not, but you will surely bump into a few at public places or in schools. Allow your kids to mingle with them, teach them kindness and compassion. Keep a check if your kid is bullying someone with challenges.
Note: 3 years ago, a 8-9-year-old boy pushed my 4 years old son on the floor (since he was playing with the lift) and stood on his chest. I saw it myself but when I complained, his mother refused to believe and lectured me to teach some common sense to my son, after all, a lift is not something you play with!
6. Share insightful information
As a parent of a child with autism, I do appreciate friends and family sending me insightful information they read. Just because we are living with a kid with autism does not mean we know all the action that is happening in the autism world. If you have a friend who is comfortable discussing autism, sending something you read is a fine way to show you care.
Though be careful when you share something about treatments or causes, as a lot of parents might not agree and react strongly to the shared studies or articles. My advice is to go easy, feel free to share but never push it too hard.
Note: Keep it personal and insightful. Please don’t forward or tag us on social media the moment you see autism in an article.
7. Refrain from passing judgments
It’s hard enough to be a parent but it’s much much harder being a parent to a child with autism. Do not judge a parent for any perceived lack of control over their kids or how they choose to raise them. It adds to our madness when we get judged by anyone and everyone for anything and everything.
Whether it is a tip on how we need to “better discipline our child” or criticism on our “finance management skills” or comment on our “messy house” or simply calling our challenges an “exaggeration”; it happens all the time. As a friend, be liberal and compassionate about whatever you see or hear from us.
Note: May not be the best analogy, but most of these judgmental remarks feel like getting advice on how to stay happily in a single room house from someone living in a mansion!
In your lifetime, you will probably know a few families affected by autism. It’s up to you whether you want to be a responsible friend, family member, or neighbor by participating in their journey or you want to add more to their thousand points long challenge list.
Take out time to learn not just about autism, but the individual child. Make the decision to accept kids with disabilities and teach your children how they can engage and be friends with children on the spectrum.
To learn more such insights, please check out my book, When I Met The “Unexpected” – A Guide For All Parents and help make this world an inclusive place for everyone.
Learn, Accept, Intervene