Child with autism in therapy

Dealing with an autism diagnosis and the aftermath of doctors, therapists and school struggles is a difficult road. Chances are you have a friend or relative coping with autism under her roof — and if you don't, you may soon, as the numbers continue to rise.

How to help a family dealing with autism

As a well-meaning friend, you probably want to do something but aren't quite sure how to help or what to say. Lending your support might be easier than you think. A few parents of children with autism shared with us what helps them most.

Acceptance

So many have been there: You're at the mall or your children's school and see a child behaving in ways that are not typical in the environment. As long as the child is not in any danger, the best thing you can do is look away or offer a supportive glance to the caregiver trying to handle the situation. They are already having a difficult time, and if you're watching the situation unfold may make them feel even more self-conscious. Jessica Severson of Don't Mind the Mess says, "Smiles instead of stares would go a long way."

Still have a lot to learn? Here are 10 things you should know about autism >>

Sensitivity

Autism parents delight in the progress their children make and appreciate the smallest of milestones, but that doesn't mean it's not difficult for many to watch the typically developing kids around them surpass their own child's development.

"Those glowing reports of how well their little Johnny is doing and about all the friends he has are hard to hear."

"Not having people tell me, 'Oh, my kid does that too!' " would make conversations with other parents much easier, says Becky from Defining "Normal." "For those that know about our situation, those glowing reports of how well their little Johnny is doing and about all the friends he has are hard to hear."

Dani G of I'm Just That Way says it's as simple as "inclusion, invitations, interest (ask questions)." Take time to make sure children with autism and their parents are included in what other kids and their families are doing and if you are unsure about something, just ask. Most parents would be more than happy to explain and will appreciate your sensitivity.

Help

Caring for an individual with autism can be emotionally, physically and financially draining. Some children on the autism spectrum do not require a lot of support, but some do and the level of need they have leaves families barely able to come up for air. "I need support. Not just the 'I am here for you and let me know if you need me' kind. I mean the kind when someone can offer to come in and give some physical help, even if it's for an hour," shares Miz Kp of Sailing Autistic Seas

Flannery of Living on the Spectrum: The Connor Chronicles says she needs one thing: "Real friendship, the kind where a friend insists that you get a break and takes your kid overnight — after asking and learning about ABA and how to manage behaviors."

Need an uplifting story of friendship? Read Autism: That's what friends are for >>

It's difficult for parents of kids with autism to find friendship, understanding and support. As a friend, you just might be the person who can provide the few hours of respite they need to keep going each day.

More on autism

Tips for talking to family about your child's autism
Autism signs and symptoms, qualities and quirks
Autism: A sister's vision

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