A little help on the journey

Reach out to families who may need their load lightened

The author, a Chico resident, says her experience as a special education program specialist and teacher supplements her personal view of the “puzzle that is autism spectrum disorder.”

During April, Autism Month, we are reminded that one out of 80 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Chances are someone in your family, neighborhood or circle of friends has a child with ASD. Or, if you don’t know someone personally, you’ve heard about autism in the media.

My son, Ian, was diagnosed with ASD 30 years ago, when few had heard about autism. It was a mysterious disability for even neurologists, teachers and psychiatrists. I felt angry and alone. Today, more services and programs are available, but parents still experience the same shock, helplessness and alienation I faced when my son was diagnosed.

My son’s diagnosis of ASD was like a catastrophe I had no control over and left me confused and overwhelmed. Sometimes, friends and family gave me advice. They listed “shoulds” and “don’ts” to try to reassure me or fix the problem. Comments like “he’s just a little behind” and “he’s a blessing in disguise” show good intentions, but don’t help dazed parents face their new life.

How, then, can you support friends or family members who have a child with ASD? Accept the situation as it is and listen—in person, on the phone and through social media—without giving advice or judgment. My friend listened to me over the telephone for years, and said, “I don’t always understand what you are going through, but I am always here for you.”

Another way you can help is to ask what you can do to give immediate relief to the family. Offer to do small, specific tasks. Bring over a dinner that fits the child’s diet restrictions, ask for their grocery list before you go shopping, do a family’s mountain of laundry for that week, or offer child care.

No one should have to raise a child with diverse abilities without help. Those families need others to help lighten the load on their journey.

Celebrate Autism Month by attending the upcoming local events here in Chico. Join me in a presentation and signing of my recent book, Strangers Together: How My Son’s Autism Changed My Life, at Lyon Books, tonight, April 10, at 7 p.m. Visit the Autism Lifespan Fair, sponsored by the Little Red Hen, on April 19. On April 26, the public is invited to support individuals with autism and their families by participating in the third annual Chico Walks for Autism, sponsored by The Yellow Door (search for The Yellow Door on Facebook for more info).