Walking the Autism Road with Someone You Love

Written by Christine Hoover

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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9 Responses to “Walking the Autism Road with Someone You Love”

  • theresa says:

    i know how people feel my daughter was dignosed jst before her 16th birthday it took them along time for her diagnoses

  • Milly says:

    I have a granddaughter (age 13) with Aspergers Syndrom. She and her family have struggled with this for a few years now. Drugs seemed to make it worse. She is almost 14 and I see her smile more and has started telling us she loves us. It’s a welcome change.

  • Leah Kullman says:

    Hi Milly

    Thank you so much for comment. I think a lot of our readers would like to know, how do you cope as a grandparent? What are the things that you think have lead to your granddaughters improvement?

  • Glenda Christie says:

    As the mother of a very autistic 10 year old, I know that God has carried me beautifully through the last 5 years since his diagnosis. It is only through Him that I have hope. I have learned that it is possible to love someone, just because they are, not because of what they can achieve. I have also learned just how much it is possible to love someone. It brings me great joy just to look into his beautiful little face. God bless.

  • DJ STEELE says:

    Thank you for the article. Have a 10 yr old grandson with autism. He is the love of my life but it is a difficult struggle for him and his parents. God has sent many good people to help him in his struggles. We are so greatful for that.

  • Shane Simmons says:

    Christine;

    Once you truly understand what Autism really is, you should do away with your grief and be glad he is healthy otherwise. Please understand, I mean no offense, but Autism is very, very different from the inside (the Autistic viewpoint) than it is from yours.

    Let me explain what this condition truly means, from the inside. All forms of Autism (I am an Aspergian, one with Asperger’s Syndrome) are essentially a condition
    where the mind is fragmented into multiple parts : at least three – the intellect, emotions, and willpower, if not more.

    In a neurotypical (sorry, that’s our term for *you* and it is never meant as an insult) mind, these parts of the psyche are bound tightly together. In the Autistic mind, they are split apart, into separate “partitions”. Depending on the severity of the Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, these partitions will be linked more or less together. The more severe the traits of the condition, the looser and fewer the links are between these fragments.

    This has some seriously profound consequences on the nature of the mind of the Autistic individual. I for instance, can simply shut off my emotions in times of crisis, going into a mode where I feel absolutely nothing at all. This is because my intellect and emotions “run” separately from each other. The willpower fragment can control them and determine which shall surface, and if there will be any links made between them. This is perfectly normal for my kind.

    I will not lie to you. This condition is not an easy one to live with. It has both its disabilities and abilities.
    Sometimes, it even bestows unusual gifts upon those it. However, I would not change a thing because I do indeed have certain abilities that make up for what shortcomings I have. More to the point, I cannot change, so self-acceptance is the only hope of survival for people like me and your son.

    Please, please understand, if you attempt to make this young boy act like neurotypical children you could damage him. If you truly love him, then you must accept his nature for what it is. If you do not, you risk a serious backlash against you when he grows up. Remember : he will be an adult someday and discover that we (Aspies & Auties, as we call ourself) have our own culture. If you attempt to “cure” this child, and change his fundamental nature, you risk not only harming him but eventually alienating him from you. The fundamental truth of the matter is that people like me will remain the way we are. We do not ever “outgrow” the condition nor can we be cured in any sense of the word. You cannot cure what you do not fully understand, nor should anyone ever attempt to do so.

    Let me make this perfectly clear : we do not want to be cured!

    Please understand that my viewpoint comes from inside, and not that of a parent. The two are utterly different and I indeed have no children.

    It is quite difficult to explain this, but I nevertheless offer my support and advice if you wish it. I will help you in any way I can.

    I may be contacted at crotalidae75dslextremecom.

    Sincerely;

    Shane Simmons

  • Isaac Raschke says:

    Hey guys, sorry if this is off topic but I’m Autistic and how do I do this if I’m having trouble with social skills? I’m 15 and I need help on this 1 :(

  • Isaac Raschke says:

    I’m talking aout teen love sorry that I didn’t mention it in my other comment.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hello Isaac, thank you for having the courage to ask for help. That is such an important skill to develop.

    First, let me say that as a 15 year old you do not need to be in any hurry to have be in love with someone. There is lots of time for you to pursue relationships as you mature in a way that allows for building healthy relationship skills. I know there is a lot of pressure in our society to have girlfriends or boyfriends but that can create unhealthy expectations which are often destructive to relationships.

    My recommendations for young people is to take that card off the table completely. Don’t even be looking for love at this point of your life. Instead, focus on friendship. Discover what kinds of people you connect with best and why. Explore what are things that you can do that promote healthy friendships. Develop skills in honest communication and effective conflict resolution. As those skills mature in your life you will be better prepared to handle the joy and pain of love relationships and be in a better place to begin looking for the one that you will commit yourself to for life in marriage.

    Does that make sense?

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