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5 Things You Can Do to Help Children With Autism and Their Families

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It’s 2015 and we’re seeing some pretty staggering statistics with regards to autism spectrum disorder (ASD): 1 in 68 children are on the spectrum, according to the CDC. I don’t know the reason and I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that with numbers like these, the odds are that your child might be in a class or a camp or an after-school program with the “1 in 68.” And for every one of them there are a few of us: their family.

Sometimes you’ll see us and never wonder or think a thing. But maybe we had a talk outside the classroom. Maybe we are both room moms or volunteering at gymnastics or bringing coolers to the soccer game. Maybe you’ve gotten to know us more than you thought you would. You’ve seen my face at school functions, the look in my eyes when things aren’t going the way I hoped and planned and you want to know: Is there anything you can do to help?

Yes, you with your big heart, yes, there are most definitely some things you can do to help:

1.  Ask me those uncomfortable questions.

Go ahead, ask them! When was she diagnosed? How did we know? Strengths? Weaknesses? Does she show affection? Can she solve complex math problems in her head? Have we tried a gluten-free diet? We so often keep ourselves removed from the experiences of others by not asking the questions circling in our minds. Don’t do that. Get to know my family. We won’t be offended. In fact, you will be immediately endeared to us because you cared enough to ask any question at all.

2. Ask us over for playdates!

Invite us to your birthday and end-of-the-year pool parties. Please. PLEASE! My kid need balloons, cupcakes and an occasional paper invitation in her backpack. Most importantly, she also needs time with your kids. Because the more time kids on the spectrum spend with neurotypical people, the more comfortable they might become with them. And I believe the more comfortable they become, the easier mainstream settings might be for them. So many kids on the spectrum can play just like anyone else (and want to play just like anyone else), but it could take time with your children to help us get to that.

3. Keep trying.

You’re going to say hi to my daughter, and she might walk right past you. You’re going to ask her a question, and she might not answer. You’re going to call her to do something, and she could stay right where she is, reading or drawing or playing by herself. Sometimes you have to say it twice, three times, maybe even more than that. But please keep trying, and if she feels comfortable talking to you, eventually you might get a response.

4. Cut them some slack.

Kids on the spectrum look like any other kid, so sometimes it’s hard to tell. But I believe having autism spectrum disorder might be like living on another planet where no one speaks your language and no one gets your jokes. It might feel like you’re constantly being bombarded with distractions and no one else seems to notice them. So if these kids start jumping up and down for no reason or curl up in a ball or become devastated by the simplest of directions, be as patient as you can be, give them a break and see #3.

5. When you teach your kid about diversity, don’t stop after race, religion and gender.

Teach them about disabilities. Teach them about mental illness. Teach them about wheelchairs and head injuries and amputations and rare diseases. Teach them respect and patience for all things outside the norm. Teach them all people are worth the time it takes to get to know them. Teach them a friendship with a special person makes you a more special person because your heart and your mind will grow a little bit bigger. Trust me, I know. I’m friends with one of them.

Betty Sweet Atkinson the mighty.1-001

Follow this journey on Betty Sweet Writes.

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Originally published: August 24, 2015
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