Walking the Autism Road with Someone You Love
When my son was diagnosed with autism, I was surprised at the depths of grief that threatened to overwhelm me. Even though I still had my son, I felt as if I had lost him in some ways. The burden of mourning and moving into a new normal was not a load I was able to carry on my own.
Thankfully, my family and friends linked arms with me, walking with me on the road of suffering. Unfortunately, too many parents of children with autism walk the road alone. If you know a friend or family member who is facing a child’s difficult diagnosis, you have a unique and tangible opportunity to help them.
What you can do:
Listen – You may feel an uneasiness about reaching out because you don’t know what to say. It’s important to remember that there are no perfect words that are going to make things better for the parent. It is through asking questions and listening that you can best help them. Asking open-ended questions such as, “How are you handling the diagnosis?” or “What are the challenges you are facing?” are good starting points.
Don’t Offer Advice - Parents of children with autism often receive unsolicited advice concerning their child’s behavior, the causes of autism, and options for therapy. Because of this, there is a wariness to talk about it.
As you begin an empathetic dialogue with your loved one, withhold your opinions and judgments unless you are asked for them. The parent is most likely weary and needs as much encouragement and grace as she can get. Offering advice will only cut off your opportunity to help her.
Offer Tangible Help – The physical, emotional, and spiritual toll that comes with an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming, especially when the parent has other children to care for. Offer specific ways that you’d like to help ease the burden.
Take the family a meal. Plan a Girls-Night-Out and provide babysitting. Offer to keep her kids overnight so the parents can have time together. Go to her house once a week at a set time to play with the child while she runs errands.
Provide Spiritual Encouragement – The best way to bless your loved one is to consistently pray for her. I still reread the emails and cards that people sent telling me the specific things they were praying for my son and for me. They offered me scripture that reminded me of God’s faithfulness and provision. They spoke of their love for my son. And they encouraged me to continue to be faithful despite my circumstances.
When parents are grieving an autism diagnosis, you cannot take away their pain completely, but your intentional care will help them grieve with hope. It will also open up opportunities to share the ultimate comfort—Jesus Christ—with those who are at a point of crisis and desperation for hope.
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