If you’re the parent of an autistic child, I bet there are plenty of times you would love a helping hand? And how many of those times do you actually ask for help? Nope, thought not. We’re a fiercely proud bunch, but in the interests of our own self-care, we really should be asking for more help from those around us to preserve our sanity. If you’re not confident about asking outright, perhaps you could share this article with your friends or family and hope they take the hint…
17 ways to help an autism parent
Ways to help an autism parent #1: Don’t judge
If there’s one thing parents of autistic children do not need, it’s the judgement of other people. Whether those people have kids on the spectrum, or even have kids at all, the last thing we need is someone who does not live our lives with our kids to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Accept that we’re trying our best and then choose any or all of the following sixteen things to show that you care…
Ways to help and autism parent #2: Ask if there’s anything they need
Like I mentioned before, we autism parents are proud – often too proud for our own good! But, if you ask if there’s anything we need, there’s a chance we might come up with
one or two things a small list of really useful things you could do/get/help with.
Ways to help an autism parent #3: Offer to babysit
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that most autism parents have pretty much zero social life. Yes, they might occasionally get a night out with friends, but as a couple, it’s extremely rare. Leaving the kids with anyone else can present all kinds of problems, so it’s easier all round if it’s avoided. BUT, this doesn’t mean that you can’t offer to watch the kids. It could be that you keep an eye on them while their mum goes for a nap, or a bath or shower in peace (believe me, that’s like a holiday to us!), meaning you’re not even left alone with them if it seems like too much. If everyone does feel confident about it, sitting for a few hours so mum and dad can go out for a grown-up meal or to watch a film would be an amazing thing to do.
Ways to help an autism parent #4: Cook a meal/fill the freezer
Mealtimes in an autism house can be horribly predictable, routine and boring. If your child will only eat certain foods, it’s often easier to just cook and eat those foods every day, rather than cooking at least two, and sometimes three or four, different meals to suit everyone. It would be lovely to have something delicious cooked by someone else for a change, or a few tasty meals ready to go in the freezer for those days when you just can’t face pasta – again.
Ways to help an autism parent #5: Bring a night out in
As I mentioned above, nights out are rare for many autism parents. How about bringing a night out… in? Have a girls’ night with a film, snacks and drinks, or a couples’ night playing games and eating takeaway and make your friends feel as though they’ve had a night out without even leaving the house!
Ways to help an autism parent #6: Talk about the boring stuff
When you have a child on the autism spectrum, not only do you find yourself thinking about autism much of the time, but it seems to be the only topic of conversation when you do find yourself talking with someone. What’s really nice is chatting with people about really boring things like Brexit, the weather and last night’s TV – you know, like normal people do.
Ways to help an autism parent #7: Learn more about their child’s type of autism
You’re probably aware that autism is a ‘spectrum’ condition, but what does that actually mean? It means that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. ‘Autism’ is a very broad term for very many traits, and it mustn’t be assumed that all autistic people behave in the same way. There are, however, some more general types of autism, such as Asperger’s, ‘classic’ autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Ask you friend about how their child’s autism presents itself and then learn more about it so that you don’t make assumptions.
Ways to help an autism parent #8: Be inclusive – invite to play dates and parties
One of the worst things about parenting a child with autism is when they are left out. Usually through ignorance and fear, many of our children are not invited to play dates and parties – and that really bloody stings as a parent. If the child has awareness, it’s even worse. Imagine having to explain that one to them? One of the best things you can do to help an autism family is to be inclusive; consider their child’s needs and invite them to play.
Ways to help an autism parent #9: Consider the needs of people on the spectrum if you are in a position to influence
Are you on the PTA? Perhaps your job involves effecting change? Why not use that influence to spread a little autism awareness and acceptance? When someone with no obvious direct link to autism starts shouting about it, it can turn heads. It’s wrong, but it’s true – so use it!
Ways to help an autism parent #10: Be flexible – cut some slack
Autism can be predictably unpredictable. Plans can change at the drop of a hat if something doesn’t feel right, which can be incredibly frustrating for the parent that had considered everything and planned down to the tiniest detail. We don’t want to be flaky, but we won’t force our kids to do something that will make them incredibly uncomfortable just to please others. If you can be flexible and accept that, you’re doing us a huge favour!
Ways to help an autism parent #11: Ask questions and talk about autism
I know I mentioned above that it’s nice to talk about things other than autism, but that doesn’t mean we won’t welcome a meaningful conversation about it. Please don’t be shy of saying ‘autism’, ‘autistic’ or ‘on the spectrum’. Please don’t say ‘normal’. Please do ask questions about how autism affects our children and our day-to-day lives, and please talk to us about what the future holds – we’re often guilty of burying our heads in the sand on that one! Read more about what you should and shouldn’t say to parents of autistic children here.
Ways to help an autism parent #12: Do shopping and run errands
You know what would be really, really helpful? If someone would pop to the supermarket and grab a few things for me once in a while. Taking Tink shopping is really tricky, for various reasons, and I’ll avoid it where I can. I shop online for lots of things, but sometimes it’s just a couple of necessities and not worth the delivery van. How nice it would be if someone turned up with some bread and milk (and a bag of Malteasers) once in a while. I’d pay – I wouldn’t expect it for free!
Ways to help an autism parent #13: Educate your own family
If you’ve taken note of #7, you’ll have learnt more about autism, and the particular traits of children (and adults!) you know. Now it’s time to share that knowledge with your own family. Help us increase awareness of how autism affects our families, and acceptance of people with autism in society by educating others. We’d do it more if we could, but we’re busy stopping our kids from eloping, eating dirt or smearing their own poo…
Ways to help an autism parent #14: Consider siblings
Does your autism mum friend have other kids? Whether they’re also on the spectrum or not, when one child is particularly demanding of attention, it’s easy for the others to fade into the background, through no fault of anyone’s. It’s really helpful if other people can pay siblings some extra attention; invite them out with your own kids, or just round for tea after school once in a while.
Ways to help an autism parent #15: Keep an open mind
Parenting is a funny old game, and we all seem to do it differently. Something that really helps us autism parents is others keeping an open mind about what, when, why, where and how we’re raising our children. We’re just trying to figure out what works best for our family. If you think we’re doing it wrong, it’s probably best not to say.
Ways to help an autism parent #16: Learn about special interests
Many (not all!) children on the spectrum have what are often referred to as ‘obsessions’, but we prefer the term ‘special interests’. It can be incredibly draining as a parent to have to listen to your child talk about their special interest all day long, or have it dictate where you go, what you do, what you eat, what you wear… It’s really helpful if there’s someone else to share the load, so if you can learn more about a child’s special interest, you can then spend some time in their company and take the pressure off mum or dad for a while.
Ways to help an autism parent #17: Be there and listen
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for an autism parent is to be there. Be present in their life. Call them, message them, check in on them regularly. If they seem as though they need to offload, be prepared to listen. That may be all they need.
Kelly is a mother of two – her son H and daughter Tink. H is home educated, Tink is autistic. Kelly is a self-employed Virtual Assistant… Life is busy!