I think this is a good time to keep the conversation open about autism, after all it wasn’t too long ago when people didn’t talk about it at all.
So what happens after the pediatrician tells a family their child may have autism? The County Regional Center comes to one’s home to set up services; a lot of vendors call to start Early Start, occupational and speech therapy, if needed. Then, before the child turns 3, people from the school district come because they are responsible for the child’s education from 3-22 years old. So the parents attend a lot of IEP (individual education plan) meetings. There is a whole language of acronyms for the parents to learn; O.T. (occupational therapy), IEP, ABA (applied behavior analyses), SIB (self injurious behaviors), and BIP (behavior intervention plan). It can become overwhelming along with the workshops to learn all you can about autism.
What really happens to a family is they start to lose touch with friends and family and not because they don’t want them or need them in their lives, but because their lives have just turned upside down.
Everyone knows someone, some family or has a friend that has a family member on the autism spectrum. How can you help? What to do? Usually the families are far too busy to answer your questions or think of what you can do.
One small kindness can be cooking a casserole or dropping off a prepared meal for the family. Note: most children with autism only eat certain foods, usually only white foods. The parents must cook two meals, one for the child and another for the rest of the family.
Parents with typical (normal) children need breaks. Not anyone can watch these children. It takes someone trained to handle the behaviors, such as hitting themselves, jumping, yelling to name just a few. The first time you see this it is shocking. The behavior has to be stopped without getting hurt or hurting the child. You may not be able to help with behaviors, but you could be a good listener. Taking one of the parents out golfing, to get a pedicure, lunch, just a quick walk around the neighborhood or bringing lunch in can make all the difference in the world for these parents.
Liza Stewart, Laguna Beach