Warning: Personal post. Don’t read this one if you don’t want to hear about it.
We have a beloved family member with autism. Our precious boy, Anthony, brings so much joy into our lives! He is a terrific kid with a wonderful personality.
Yet our good days are still a challenge. There is no getting away from autism. There is no getting over autism. The days are filled with struggles. Each and every one of them. There is never a time when you can say, “Okay-let’s skip autism today and just be neuro-typical. We’ll give this a rest and recharge our batteries and hit it hard again tomorrow…”
There will be no rest and recharging of batteries. There will just be more of the same issues you have worked on thousands of times before, yet does not register or sink in with him. You will continue to repeat yourself, over and over and over again until you’re blue in the face because it takes him 90 seconds to process your sentence. In that 90 seconds something might have happened-a butterfly was outside the window, the dog left the couch and went to his water bowl, the refrigerator made a noise…And that sentence he was processing is gone. POOF.
Except you don’t know if the sentence he was processing is gone or not, not until later when your ask again. And we start the processing clock over again. Or he looks at you with that blank look in his eyes and he is so far into his own little world you can’t reach him there. Or he is so frustrated he cannot communicate what he’s trying to tell you he grabs something and hurls it across the room.
Or, today, at his teacher.
Then there’s the food thing, the bathroom thing, the video thing, the lego thing, the bedtime thing, the shower thing, the homework thing, the pick up our toys thing, the nuclear meltdown thing…and the list goes on and on.
You know what brings us joy? When Anthony sings a song, or laughs at a funny thing in one of his videos, or sits next to you and let’s you put your arm around him for a little while…That’s joy in our world.
But every day there is grief. First you grieve because there is something different about the child. Then you grieve because he doesn’t reach milestones like neuro-typical children. Then you grieve because his peers surpass him and he won’t ever catch up. Then you grieve because you realize the boy may never be able to attend a regular school, have regular friends and regular experiences. His life will always be autism and all that entails. You grieve when you realize he will never marry, never have children, never hold a job. He will never have a life like others, because he isn’t like others.
He is Anthony. He is the joy of my life. And he is a person with autism.
What can you do to help families dealing with the daily challenges of autism? Here are some suggestions off the top of my head:
Send a card. Let them know you’re thinking of them and praying for them. Include your phone number and times you are available to help, if you are.
Make a meal. Gift cards to a restaurant that also does take-out is a wonderful alternative. Sometimes public places can be very overwhelming for the loved one. Take out is a way to enjoy a restaurant without the extra stress of having to worry about the reaction to a changed environment.
Offer to stay with the loved one so the family can go to church. I volunteered to teach several students with special needs Sunday School materials. I adapted as needed, went to their own homes so they were comfortable in the environment and we had a terrific time. I was so blessed by this experience, I can’t even tell you…
If you can handle the challenges of autism, offer to care for their family member while they run errands, go to the doctor or go to lunch with a friend.
Even better would be if you could take the person with autism out of their house and to a park or something. Somewhere they will have fun. At first this outing should only be a few minutes. Build up time and you’ll be able to make it through a whole movie without stress.
Offer to run their errands for them-drop off or pick up their dry cleaning, take the books back to the library, grab some stamps at the post office, take their dog to the vet or groomer, you get the idea. If you have a skill or talent that might be useful to the family-offer it. Things like wood working and sewing are of particular interest, as there are so many things which can be made for the person with autism to enhance their lives. Ask the family for specifics as to what they need or want, each person with autism is different. The family will know what sensory things would be most helpful for their loved one.
Offer to help around their house. Mow their lawn, weed their garden, pay someone to clean their house. If you’re handy, offer to repair stuff. Believe me there is plenty that needs repairs if their family member is a thrower or body slammer.
Take their other kids to the park or over to your house to play with your kids. Siblings need attention too.
If you have something of interest to the person with autism-say a horse for horseback riding, a swimming pool, you love to cook and are willing to work along side the loved one in the kitchen, anything really-offer that too. These sensory experiences are vitally important to the development of the person. Often they will respond poorly at first, but with time and the more used to the experience they become, you will see such a positive impact in the person’s life.
Remember, it is very expensive to raise a child with special needs. If you send a card, throw in a gift card to Walmart or somewhere. Believe me, there are always things they need for their loved one. A gift card to any of these wonderful places is great too.
These are just a couple suggestions.
Remember, each person with autism is unique. They truly are a puzzle you have to figure out. Ask questions, be involved. The more positive influences and experiences in the life of the loved one the better. You have no idea how much you can help and positively impact the life of a person with autism.
For more information, here is a wonderful website and my charity of choice: