How Has Autism Affected Your Friendships?

There are so many important issues surrounding autism: early detection. Proper diagnosis. Early intervention. Research-proven treatment. Bullying. Nutritional complications. Safety. At Parents, we've covered them all. But there was one angle we hadn't addressed, and it was the impact the diagnosis has on friendships between parents. Writer Jamie Pacton (at right in photo) pitched us a moving essay about her own story: Ever since eighth grade, she and her best friend Ashleigh (at left) had been on parallel tracks, and even ended up living in their hometown after marriage and getting pregnant at precisely the same time. They each gave birth to a son within four days of one another. But that's where the similarities ended, because Jamie's son, Liam, would go on to be diagnosed with autism, and Ashleigh's would not.

The strain this put on their relationship was immense. It took Jamie quite some time to come to terms with Liam's diagnosis and all it entailed, and she found herself increasingly jealous of the kind of mothering experience Ashleigh was having. Ashleigh, meanwhile, was often at a loss for words--or the right words--when trying to discuss Liam's challenges. If you read her touching, honest essay, you'll learn how she and Ashleigh handled it.

It obviously resonated with parents, because Jamie has heard from many who are in a similar situation. One mom tracked down Jamie's email to thank her for the article and let her know how much she could relate. She described how, when trying to get out of a reunion with college friends, she tearfully burst out, "I don't want to see how well your kids are doing and resent you! I'm sorry!"

Thankfully, Liam, who is nearly 6 and nonverbal, is making huge strides of late. He went to the zoo last week and for the first time, he didn't need a stroller--he was able to walk through the whole zoo, he rode a pony and a train, and was engaged with the animals. And in another first, in January he used his Yes/No board to answer two questions he'd never answered before: "Do you love your Mommy?" "Do you love your Daddy?" I think you know what the answers were, and what it meant to Jamie and her husband.

For ways to help friends understand Autism, download Autism Speaks Family Support Took Kit.

A simple test developed by the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore may be able to help determine whether a child will develop autism and other forms of developmental delays. The pull-to-sit test, done in infants as young as six months old, monitors whether or not a child has head lag, or trouble controlling his neck and head. While the test is not a diagnosis, children with head lag have a higher risk of autism or other social or communication delays.

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