So often we avoid talking about the tough stuff. When someone is going through a difficult or emotional time, many people respond by backing away. They fear offending the person or getting it wrong or not having all the best advice or ability to “fix” the situation. I am guilty of this, even with my closest friends and family.
When it comes to autism, I want to talk about it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that autism now affects 1 in 54 children in the US. Including this handsome little man right here.
This number used to be 1 in a 1,000.
What does this mean? I am not here to start a debate about vaccinations, or epidemics or finding cures.
What this means is that you are VERY likely to cross paths with someone on the spectrum. This person might be in your very own family or circle of friends, at your children’s school, the neighborhood playground, or the grocery store.
Autism will touch your life.
I want to talk about some ways to support kids with autism and their families.
- Lead by example. Your children see the way you are around people who are different.
- Talk with your kids about autism. When they see a child behaving in a unique manner, draw on the similarities they share with your child. “Look, that boy loves the swings, too!” Your child will find their new buddy to be no less happy, fun, loving, adventurous and interesting as their other friends.
- If a child tries to interact with my boy, he may not respond. He likely didn’t understand the question, or doesn’t realize someone is talking to him. He isn’t intentionally ignoring, and would never want to hurt anyone or make them sad.
- This kind of social interaction is INVALUABLE for him to practice. Children should be encouraged to ask again, try again later, or “give” him the words to say. “Come get me!” “Let’s go!”
- If a child is upset, give them some space. They are likely overwhelmed and/or sensory overloaded so too many words can heighten the situation. Offer a hug, or try counting down on your fingers.
- Some kids on spectrum will repeat themselves over and over again. Children can respond gently with “I need a break” or “not right now”.
- Remember that these kids can hear, feel and understand so much, even if they don’t say as much.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions (both parents and kids!) with the exception of “is your child high-functioning?” Who wants to go around with a low-functioning label? Don’t be afraid if your child asks forward and bold questions! Even if it creates an awkward moment, it’s the perfect moment to spread awareness and I love it.
And to support the autism moms and dads out there, especially ones with newly diagnosed kids, remember that you don’t have to fix anything. Just listen.
Autism mom and writer, Diane Dokko Kim, said it so well: “We will do the talking. There is so much in our heart that’s conflicted. We need a safe place to unpack it. You know what I really need from my friends? Just come and bring the emotional barf bag, I will fill it.”
When we sit in pain or struggle to unpack emotions, sometimes we just need a friend to sit with us.
Thank you for continuing to learn about autism, now I want you to talk about it too! Start a conversation, with your kids, your friend, your neighbor, your bartender, etc.
You are helping us spread kindness, inclusion, connection, understanding, patience, and so much love.
This was originally posted for #autismawarenessmonth in April 2019.