A little over ten years ago our eldest son was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism, and my world (and my husband’s) changed irrevocably. We were what I like to call “mature parents” when we had Justin, convinced we were ahead of the curve because we’d watched so many of our friends parent before us.
We were so wrong.
Autism completely through us for a loop, and even though we’d had suspicions that something was different about ours son’s neurology for almost a year prior to his diagnosis, it still hit us hard. We wondered if he’d ever talk (he’s started to.) We wondered if we’d ever sleep again (he does and we do!) We wondered if we could afford this (that’s still a work in progress.) In our few frivolous moments we wondered if we’d ever have a social life again.
We do. Sort of.
When I look a decade back I realize that my husband Jeff and I did a lot of things right, but the one thing we got completely wrong was acting like we were handling everything while initially we were completely falling apart.
Autism thankfully is not life-ending, but at least for us it was “way-of-life” ending. Our world completely changed from playdates to therapy, from trips to Starbucks to doctor appointments. We needed help.
And we didn’t really ask for it.
I recently had a friend ask me what she could do for a friend whose son was recently diagnosed, and so I told her the things I wished I’d asked a decade ago. I hope these suggestions are helpful for anyone wanting to come to the aid of a family member or friend whose child just received an ASD diagnosis.
1) Ask your friend what she needs. Even if she says “nothing,” keep asking. She may be so overwhelmed she might need some time to figure out what you can actually do for her.
2) If you think you can handle it, offer to babysit. Your friend will still need to get a mammogram even though her child has autism. Offer to cover for her.
3) One of the toughest things I had to accept about autism at least in the early days was that everything I thought we’d do for fun was work. Offer to go to the park or some other outing just to act as a pair of extra hands. It’s a relief to know someone else is there to help.
4) Just listen to your friend, don’t give advice. You know even less than she does about autism. Let her vent.
5) This is a big one- offer to go to appointments with her and act as her scribe. Many times there’s months of waiting for an appointment with a developmental pediatrician or other autism professional, and parents want to make the most of these visits. This is hard to do if they are chasing down their child. Ask if you can go with her and either help out with the child or take notes for her.
6) The days after a diagnosis can seem very bleak for some families. Ask if she’d prefer you tell mutual friends for her. It’s one less thing for her to do or worry about.
7) If you’re a family member or friend who can help out financially, offer to do so, then offer again. Autism can be really, really expensive. Every little bit helps.
8) This may be the most important one- take your friend out for dinner, or a movie, or treat her to a massage, anything that gets her out of the house. She’ll need a break (well, many.)
9) Last but not least, I said it in number one- keep offering help, keep offering help, keep offering help.
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