Someone asked me recently how to be there for us, or in general, for those parenting autism. After thinking on it, here are 5 things I came up with I thought others may find helpful to know.
1. Just ask
If you are parenting neurotypical children, and trying to support a parent of a child(ren) on the spectrum, and simply don’t know how, it’s okay to ask. Lead with love and curiosity, and ask to learn what you don’t know. Every child is unique, despite if they are on the spectrum or not, so parenting each child is unique in its approach, maintenance, and execution. Every friendship is unique, and I know when friends have asked me about the diagnosis, just sharing the stories of our day-to-day helps them to show up and support our family in ways they wouldn’t know how to otherwise. If you are asking from a place of love and wishing to truly support your friend, chances are they’ll be relieved to be able to be honest with you, and grateful you are willing to meet them where they are comfortable.
2. Send caffeine
Ya’ll, your friend parenting autism is not sleeping. And not in the way they could possibly survive without caffeine. Whether they drink a pot of coffee black a day, or straight shoot with shots of espresso like I do these days, or maybe they are mad for matcha—whatever it is, they most likely don’t have hours in the day to take a nap and catch up on the Zs they lose in the middle of the night. If you’re thinking of your friend, and you want to send something that could help, I promise, for any parent I’ve spoken with who is up with kiddos all night, a free coffee is pretty darn magical. Us East Coasters run on Dunkin’, but Starbucks, Peets, whatever your flavor, it can seriously go a long way. Not only does it say, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ but it also says, ‘I see you, you’ve got this, keep going.’ Well, at least this is what I’m convinced my four cappuccinos tell me every morning…a shot of magic energy in every shot of espresso.
3. Bring wine
Most likely, your friend hasn’t made it out for ladies night in a while. It’s not as easy as you think to get a babysitter, and, from my experience, my guess is staying home for bedtime routines is a requirement. Truth be told, by the time the kiddos are asleep, the parent probably shortly follows to their own bedroom, not knowing how much sleep she is going to get that night. But stopping by with a bottle of wine, leaving all judgement of whatever you are walking into at the door (as most likely you are about to witness a witching hour right before bedtime for the kiddos), and smiles ready to help in anyway needed with clinking glasses as the reward at the end of it—can be the ultimate way for a mom who never gets out to feel a little less like just a mom, and more like someone who still finds time to spend with her friends—even if the friend is the one bringing the time to her. Having a conversation with another adult about something other than stimming, or triggers, or behavior, with unexpected laughter, while dressed in sweatpants and bra optional (you know you were thinking it), can make a really exhausted caregiver feel more like the person you once knew before kids, and just enough of a pick-me-up to make any hangover that accompanies the next morning worth it.
4. Love our babies
It can take a caregiver or a teacher months to get a child on the spectrum to pair with them—and that’s with training and understanding to put in the work. But, from what I have seen, for as much work as it takes, it’s pretty simple. Show up, and show up again and again until they know your face. FaceTime instead of calling. Stop by after work, or for a play date on a Sunday morning. And don’t expect our babies to come to you, be okay with however long it takes for them to pair with you. It needs to fully be on their terms. You need to earn their trust, and they’ll want to spend time with you. Celebrate it when they do. Because they will make you work for it, but it will be incredibly worth it.
And, if you bring kids into the mix with you, make sure you teach them how to show up too. Explain to them just because our kids might not say ‘hello’ back, or be comfortable running around with noisy chaotic fun, or like to give hugs and loves at the end of a visit, it doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful for the companionship, and that they don’t bring something truly special to the friendship. Encourage they be open to wherever the playdate takes them, removing expectations from the mix, providing important opportunities for learning, grace, and simple joy.
5. Sit with us in the dark
Brené Brown, Empathy Researcher, says, ‘Empathy is… simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of, ‘You’re not alone.’ Sometimes, all we need is someone to sit with us during the moments we question what we are doing, fully aware we are navigating blind in a space without doors or windows. As I’ve said so many times before, autism is magical, and has a truly beautiful lens that it places on your life as a parent if you let it, showing just how incredible your children are because it navigates, showcases, and highlights your child’s gifts right before your eyes.
But parenting, in general, can be hard. And when the ‘rulebook’ doesn’t look like all the ones your friends, family, and published strangers look like, it can sometimes make you question every decision you make. I’ve heard Brené explain to have empathy is to see a friend sitting in a dark room alone, and not to rush in and turn a light on or even walk by, say a quick hello and leave, but to enter the space quietly, sit beside your friend, maybe even hold their hand, and just be. Just sit with us in the dark, for however long we need you to. Remember, we’re strong, committed parents who put our children first. We won’t be sitting there long—there is laundry to switch, lunches to pack, pick-ups to arrange, therapy to get to, etc…but if we need a minute, let us know we aren’t alone in it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Young. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Christina:
‘He’ll yell ‘Buh-bye, see you later!’ He is showing her his love by letting her in his bubble, despite how painful it is for him.’: Mom of autistic son says sibling’s bond ‘is like two pieces to a puzzle’
‘Last night we learned of the death of a toddler his age as we watched the news. Emergency rooms aren’t filled with kids like him.’: Mom of special needs child says ‘the least I can do is keep my family out of your care’
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