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5 do's and don'ts for supporting friends with kids with autism

Kristen Jeter is a stay at home mom, with a degree in child learning and development and a mom to 4 year old twins on the spectrum.

Deficient/Deficiency is defined as “the quality or state of being defective or of lacking some necessary quality or element” by the Merriam Webster dictionary. On its own it is a harmless word. When used to describe children with autism, by a friend, well that’s more than hurtful.

And I was angry! As a single mom to twins, who happened to both have an ASD diagnosis I’ve been angry before, I’ve been insulted before. And I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by most of my friends and family. I always tell my girls to try and find the good in a situation. So, instead of continuing to be angry with my former friend, I decided this was a great opportunity. After all, April is autism awareness month! So here are my 5 DO’s and DON’Ts for supporting families with kids on the spectrum.

1. DO: Be Supportive!: It’s easy...take the time to make a phone call, invite them over to your house, be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Celebrate the great achievements! Support the success!

DON’T: Be Critical!: If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all...is a good rule of thumb! If you find yourself feeling the need to lecture, then STOP! We want to feel support from those closest to us!

2. DO: Learn more and educate yourself!: Go to a therapy session, speak with a BCBA, contact those in your local autism community. The more you learn and understand about autism, the better!

DON’T: Think research makes you an expert!: With technology at our fingertips it’s easy to get caught up. There are lots of articles, peer reviewed journals, etc. out there. There’s no better way to learn than in person, from those of us who live it. Remember we are the expert, advocate, and therapist for our own children! Ask what you should focus on, or how you can help!

3. DO: Use kind, socially accepted language!: Treat others the way that you would want to be treated. Speaking in a kind, loving and supportive way is best! 

DON’T: Use discriminatory/derogatory language!: There are many words that are offensive. Words have power and they have meaning. Choose yours with tact and consideration!

4. DO: Teach your children acceptance and understanding as well!: When we teach our children the true meaning of this, they turn into young teens/adults who are understanding and compassionate. They turn into people who will one day ask my child to prom, give them the job or be a friend!

DON'T: Let your child be the bully!: It happens so often. It’s not just kids being kids! By starting conversations now, you can help your children understand the importance of accepting those with differences! How would you feel if it was your child getting pushed on the playground, made fun of on the internet or mocked in the classroom? 

5. DO: BELIEVE and EMPATHIZE!: Be kind! Be patient! Be supportive! Put the “able” before the “disable”! Things will be challenging sometimes and that’s ok. There will also be amazingly profound and wonderful moments too! This is a journey and belief is a powerful thing. Having someone believe in you makes a difference! 

DON'T: DOUBT or JUDGE!: Whether it’s doubting a person, an entire family, or judging a therapy style, food choice, or vaccination schedule...doubt and judgements should be left at the door! Just as you make the decisions for your children, we make the ones for ours. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, we need positive support, not doubt and judgements. 

If we are going to use words to describe my twins, deficient would not be one of them. Words that I use to describe them are...inspiring, brave, joyful, intelligent, strong, and incredible! They aren’t lacking anything. They aren’t defective. They are perfect! autism is a part of that. It has positively impacted not only my life, but the lives of those closest to us and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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.