I assume that you are learning a lot this month. Perhaps you know some people that deal with autism on a daily basis, and you’d like to help. That’s why I’m here! I’m going to show you how to reach out to families dealing with autism, or any other special need for that matter.
In my experience, most families dealing with autism lack in two areas–time and money. Doctor visits, medicine, supplements, special equipment, therapists, special classes and groups all require extra money and drain resources. These same things take a lot of time, frequently wearing out parents of special needs kids. What can you do to help? Well, I brainstormed some things that you can do and grouped them into categories. I tried really hard to make these so money is not really a factor. Let’s get started!
The most obvious suggestion here is to offer to watch someone’s children. That’s great if it works! Sometimes a child has such great needs that the parent really can’t leave. Does that mean child care help is out of the question? NO! Offer to go over and watch the child at the home. This way, the parent can get some things done around the house, or take a nap! If you need help, you can simply go find the parent.
Taking a bunch of kids to the doctor’s office can be hectic. Throw in a special need, and it can become more challenging. Why not offer to watch the siblings during a doctor’s appointment? Many parents would be extremely thankful for such an offer!
My final suggestion is to offer to watch a family’s child at home or at church so the parents can attend their favorite church service. Many children with autism cannot sit through an entire service. By sitting with a child in the foyer, you are allowing a parent to refresh their soul, something very important when dealing with special needs.
Why would I talk about groceries when we’re in Autism Awareness Month? Because many families need extra money for food. Either they need money for foods on a special diet, or medications, supplements, and therapies are so costly that families are literally choosing between groceries and medication. Imagine the relief of finding a bag of staple groceries or household toiletries on their doorstep, or receiving a grocery store gift card in the mail!
Did you know that grocery stores can be overwhelming for children on the autism spectrum? Sights, sounds, smells, and strangers assault a child’s nervous system from all sides, and can make the experience horrific. Parents learn how much their child can tolerate, and they implement strategies to create a successful trip. Sometimes that still is not enough.
There are a couple of things you can do to help in this area. If you see a tantruming child, smile, be patient, and consider initiating soft, gentle conversation as a distraction. Sometimes that is all a child needs. If it’s not enough, offer assistance with something else, so the parent can care for the child. Perhaps that means holding the hand of a younger sibling through the parking lot or pushing the grocery cart to the car. Additionally, if you’re out in the parking lot and notice a special needs family, offer to put the cart away for them. This allows the parent to stay with the children. Maintenance:
When you are dealing with autism day in and day out, you get tired. Appointments, meltdowns, school meetings, and more drain energy. Some days caregivers are so tired that regular home/life maintenance is daunting.
Grass is about to start growing taller. Offer to mow a lawn. Is it winter? Shovel a sidewalk and a driveway. Tell a mom you’ll come over and do dishes and vacuum for her. Offer to take a family’s car for an oil change and cleanup. Grab your kids and go rake leaves for a single dad.
Remember the financial crunch autism families often face and the added stress? You could reach out and give a mom or dad a chance to relax. You could send a $5 gift card to a coffee shop or for movie rentals. Create a basket of goodies that will be a treat. If you are a massage therapist, hair stylist, reflexologist, or some other similar profession, offer a free service. Host a fun girls’ night (or guy time) for a local group of autism moms. Believe me, they don’t get to enjoy that very often!
Parents of children on the autism spectrum face feelings of failure, fear, worry, and many others daily. When someone takes the time to give a kind word, it can completely change the way a day is going. Take time to tell someone you think they are doing a good job. Flash a smile. Send an “I’m thinking of you” note or a funny card.
I have one final thought–why not ask? If you know a family dealing with a special need, take the time to ask what you can do. Say something like, “I imagine you have some hard days. Is there any way I can help?”
Hopefully these suggestions are a place for you to start. I’m sure you can think of many more ideas! Did you have a favorite? Do you have one to add? Feel free to make this an interactive conversation by leaving a comment!
©2011 Jenny Herman & Many Hats Mommy
Jenny Herman shares experiences about daily life with autism and more on her blog www.manyhatsmommy.com. In addition to being a wife and mom, she is a Christian, a business woman, reader, writer, music lover, advocate, and more. In other words, she wears many hats, just like you do.
What a great post, full of helpful ideas and suggestions that could benefit a family with a child with special needs. Thank you Jenny!