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Calls to Action

10 Ways to Help and Support an Autism Family

Below is a post by autism mom and Autism Speaks Autism Response Team Coordinator Denise Bianchi.

With 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with autism in the United States, it is likely that you may have a friend, coworker or a family member affected by autism. Over the last ten years, Autism Speaks has worked tirelessly to raise autism awareness. While people are overall more autism aware, they may not realize how and what they can do to support their friend or family member and their child with autism.

Here are 10 things you can do to help a family that has a child has with autism:

1. Learn About Autism

A great way to start supporting a family affected by autism is to learn more about autism. It is also important to remember the saying ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you you’ve met one person with autism’ Check out some of our Tool Kits with autism information and resources here. Not only will it be great that you better understand autism, but the parent will also feel REALLY supported!

2. Ask Us About Our Kids

Parents love to share about their children with autism, especially to celebrate ongoing successes and new milestones. It’s okay to ask your friend “How is your child doing?” It never hurts to ask us what our kids have been up to. Like all parents, we love to brag and boast about our kids accomplishments.  Be there to listen. 

3. Go the Extra Mile

Parent of newly diagnosed children may not call or visit as much as usual and sometimes it may seem like they’ve lost interest. But please understand this is not the case. They may be busy with meetings and therapies. From calling insurance companies to school districts, parents can face many obstacles trying to help their child with autism access the services he or she needs. Their child may also have difficulty with transitions, making it challenging to visit friends' homes or new places. Catching up with a phone call can be a great way to stay connected.  Or offer to swing by their house with coffee to take the pressure off.

4. Be A Good Listener

You may find your friend wants to talk about the diagnosis. Her own feelings about it may change from day to day - Be a good listener. Go out of your way to be compassionate and understanding and let her know you can be a go-to person when she needs to talk or a pick me up.  

5. Acceptance Strengthens Friendship

Asking about their child’s progress (see above) will help you learn about the child’s strengths and challenges.  Even though you may not know everything about autism, it will mean the world if you get to know and build a relationship with our kiddo.  This will make your friendship even stronger! Plus, you will be an even better babysitter!

6. Caring for the Caregiver

Finding respite and time to recharge is an important part of being an autism parent.  You can help by offering to watch your friend’s child with autism (if you are comfortable doing so) or to watch the typical siblings so your friend can have time for a break.

7. Be Inclusive!

Another way to help is by teaching your own children about autism. Some children with autism may have trouble making friends and can be bullied by peers. You can help just by offering to include your friend’s child in group and one-on-one activities with your kids.  They can find out they have similar interests and will learn it can feel good to be a friend to someone who may need one.  A new meaningful friendship for any child is always great, as it increases acceptance of individual differences and an individual's understanding of diversity.

8. Invite Us…Again!

Even though we may always seem busy and you might have not spoken to us in a while, we still love to go out to eat, go to the movies, go for a run, go to a game or see a concert.  We are still the same friend you grew to know and love! However, if we cannot make it, please don’t take it personally and invite us to the next one!

9. “Walk in Our Shoes”

Each year thousands of families affected by autism come together at autism walks and events all over the country to raise autism awareness! If your friend has a walk team in honor of their child with autism, you can support them by joining in on this special day! It’s a great way for the autism community to come together and support each other and increase autism awareness! Find a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event near you here!

10. Help Us Advocate (Don’t worry, it's easy!)

Advocating for access to autism services and supports at the state and federal level is a priority for the autism community.  It will mean the world to an autism family if you become an autism champion by advocating on their behalf. The best part? It only takes a few moments! Sign up for Autism Votes to stay on top of easy ways to be an advocate.  

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.