Asking somebody for help is the easiest way to ensure that you will be able to attain your goals. Yet most people find it extremely difficult to ask for help.
Elaine Hall, an author, advocate, and mother of a teen with autism, has some easy ideas for how to lend a helping hand to families who have a child with autism. Often people want to help, but don’t know what to do. Even a little bit of thoughtfulness and support can make a big difference to someone constantly facing the stress of taking care of someone with autism.
Here are seven free or inexpensive suggestions you can do to help someone who has a child with autism that may not be able to ask for help. Kindness can make a world of difference.
1.) On the way to your weekly or daily trip to the grocery store, ask if there is anything you can pick up for their family.
Pick up some eggs, or a carton of milk and drop it by. If they insist on paying you back, accept. Then, the next time you ask them if there is anything they need, more than likely, they will feel okay to say, "yes, please."
Why? Because often taking a child with autism to a grocery store can be overwhelming.
2.) Learn the facts about autism, but don't give advice.
Parents who have a child recently diagnosed with autism are often overwhelmed with "to dos." Today there is lots of information to help unravel the intricacies of therapies, schools and protocols. There are special needs advocates, websites, books, journals -- you name it, it's out there. What families need more than additional information or advice is someone to listen to them -- they need a friend. A friend who understands what they are going through and doesn't judge, condemn, or give advice.
It's okay to offer a magazine article, a blog post, etc., but only give advice if you are asked!
3.) Take the sibling of the child who has special needs out for a special treat.
When there is a child who has severe needs, the typically developing sibling may often feel left out, or become a "little adult" -- over-responsible, learning at a young age to put their own needs aside. This can cause resentment or denial of their own feelings. Parents juggling their own schedules and therapies for the child with autism may not have the time or space to give what they would like to the sibling. This is where friends and family can be a tremendous support in a very easy way.
Ask if the sibling wants to join your kids for a movie, an ice cream, an outing. Or if you don't have kids, find out what interests the sibling, and take them to a ball game, a dance concert or just a walk around the block.
And speaking of walks -- this is really number three and a half -- but if the family with autism has a dog, offer to take their dog for a walk. That's one more thing they don't have to think about. Siblings of a brother or sister with autism have a different life than their typically developing peers. Often, as the siblings mature, they see how their brother/sister has enriched their own lives. You can be the person who makes a difference in their young life.
4.) Give the parents or single parent a night out.
Okay, this is a bit more challenging. You must be willing to leave your comfort zone to be available to be with a child who processes the world differently. Learn about autism. Learn about joining a child's world. Spending time with a child who has autism can change the way you experience the world!
Start with just a half hour at a time. Or if you have the financial means, offer to pay for childcare once a month -- or even once a year! With the divorce rate of parents with children who have autism at 80 percent (almost twice the national average) you can be the one who helps save a marriage. Or the one that helps a single mom or dad meet Mr. or Mrs. "Right!"
5.) Okay, you're not good with kids. But you're organized, and like to help others be the same. Offer to help with housework or organize their office.
Come over, wash their dishes, take out the trash -- any small act can be so helpful. Or again, if you have the financial means, pay for someone to help clean their house. Parents with children who have special needs have to compromise on something and sometimes that's household chores.
6.) Bring over a cooked meal.
If you are real ambitious, start a food bank with your neighbors, or synagogue or church group. Even having someone bring a cooked meal over once a month can make all the difference for a stressed recently diagnosed family with autism.
7.) Ask your high school child to volunteer their time weekly to play with the child who has autism.
Many schools now offer community service hours for teens who volunteer in the community: programs like Friendship Circle, Best Buddies and Circle of Friends. Friendship Circle pairs kids with special needs to go into the home and play with the child two hours a week. Many people say how their lives have been enriched by becoming friends with someone who has autism.
Thanks for reading,