How To Be Friends With An Autism Parent
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.
Before we became parents, my husband, Joseph, and I had a pretty active social life. We went out to the movies, went out for dinner with friends, went to parties, we entertained.
During my pregnancy and after Norrin was born, our social life dwindled down a bit. (I honestly cannot remember the last movie I saw.)
After Norrin was diagnosed with autism, our social life practically became obsolete. It pretty much consists of therapists and appointments. And as our lives changed, so did our friendships. Some ended while others got stronger.
Be Aware. Autism Awareness is a two way street. Become familiar with the diagnosis (at least the basics) and common terminology. Your friend will need you more than ever and if you have an understanding of the disability—that will make them feel less alone.
If you have “typical” kids, take the time to explain autism to them. It would be great if you could schedule a play date. Especially if your child is a year or two older—the older child can act as a role model for the younger one.
Be Understanding. Those first few months after a diagnosis, your friend may be distant or distracted. There may be times when they’re just not available. They may not pick up the phone when you call. It’s not that they don’t care about you—they may just be too overwhelmed to talk.
Understand that it will be hard for them to commit to plans. Childcare will always be an issue. Understand that they may need to cancel plans at the last minute. It’s not that they don’t want to spend time with you; it may just be a bad time. Keep extending invitations—they will be there when they can. You can always offer to come over with a bottle of wine and chocolate cake. I bet they’d really like that.
Just Listen. There will be times when your friend needs to talk, vent or complain. They may need to cry. Let them. You don’t have to say anything. It’s okay if you don’t offer advice (especially if you don’t have a kid with an autism diagnosis). Just let them talk and get it all out.
But don’t let autism rule the conversation. Try to talk about things that will make them laugh. Your friend will want to know about you too, she/he may be too preoccupied to ask.
Be Sensitive. Using the “r-word” or making jokes about kids on the “short bus” is not okay. It’s never okay to make jokes about special needs children. The r-word is especially cruel, demeaning and extremely insensitive. Remember that if your friend’s kid has an autism diagnosis, they are most likely taking a mini bus to school and/or they may also have an intellectual disability. When you use these words around your friend you are insulting and degrading their child. Eliminating these words from your vocabulary is just the right thing to do.
Make An Effort. Make an effort to understand their kid’s speech or gestures. Make the effort to get to know their kid. Ask questions. Take a genuine interest. Ask if you can sit in on a therapy session to have a better understanding of what it takes to parent a child with autism. If you have children, volunteer your child to participate in the session. I know our therapists love when “typical” kids join the session—it makes for great social interaction.
Offer To Help. There are many things about an autism parent you may not know. One thing you need to know about autism parents is that they rarely ask for help. At least I know I don’t. Maybe you do want to help and are just waiting for your friend to ask. If your friend is anything like me, they will not ask.
Instead of waiting to be asked, take the initiative. Ask “How can I help you?” or “What can I do to help?” If you pose the question in those terms, they just may take you up on the offer.