Do you know a family living with autism? Have you thought about helping them, but you’re just not sure what they might need and how you could help? Here’s a quick list of 12 ways you can help a family with a child on the autism spectrum.
- Gather friends and organize a fix-it day to help with home repairs. Some children on the autism spectrum can be destructive. I know our children have scratched doors, put small holes in walls, and ripped window screens during a sensory meltdown. Personally, it’s hard to schedule home repairs because (depending on the day) we may need to have our full attention on the kids. A small crew of handy friends plowing through a family’s home repair list would be a wonderful way to make a huge difference.
- Offer to play with a child while parents take a break. Sometimes, a small break to get a haircut, get groceries, or go sit at a coffee shop alone is all parents may need. If it were my kids, you could color, craft, build with Legos, play outside, or watch a movie. You may even enjoy it!
- Give a gift card for copying expenses. If you’re not in the special needs community, you may not realize the shocking, staggering amount of paperwork that often accompanies an autism diagnosis. I’m always needing to make copies of lengthy documents to have on hand for doctor appointments, therapists, and school. The paper costs really add up so a gift card would be unexpected and welcome.
- If you’re the type that likes to bring over meals to help a family with an illness or a new baby, put a family with autism on your food rotation list. Once or twice a year ask for a convenient time to drop off a meal. Even if the child has a special diet, the parents may love a hot meal they don’t have to cook.
- Offer to take notes at an IEP meeting. IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. If the child is school-age, chances are there are regular IEP meetings at school. They can be confusing and emotional, so offering to attend an IEP as moral support or to take notes would be extremely helpful.
- Ask if they need an extra person for a dentist or doctor appointment. Dentist appointments can be especially anxiety-producing for a child on the spectrum—bright lights, sharp instruments, unpleasant sounds. You could go along to help communicate with the medical team while the parent comforts the child.
- Similarly, you can offer to watch other children during medical or therapy appointments. It can be very challenging to take a typical child along to every appointment for a child with autism. Watching a sibling could let the parent focus completely on the special needs child at the already stressful appointments.
- Invite a child with autism to your child’s birthday party, or accept an invitation to a birthday party for a child with autism. This is a big one. By it’s very nature, autism creates communication difficulties, making friendships difficult. Some children on the spectrum struggle with friendships and may not get invited to many birthday parties. If the child is young, they may not understand why they’re not invited or why friends don’t come to their birthday parties. Getting more birthday party invitations could make a big difference in a young life. Chances are, a parent will likely stay at the party with the child with autism to help smooth over confusing social interactions.
- Check-in often with a text, phone call, or email. And repeat. Please don’t take offense if the parent doesn’t reply or takes awhile to reply. Autism can be isolating for the child and the family. Sending a short message to ask how everyone is doing is a nice touch and appreciated more than you know.
- Building off of #9, keep inviting a family with autism to your gatherings. Even if they decline most of the time, inviting them could make them feel less isolated. And please don’t take it personally when they can’t attend—it could be for reasons out of their control.
- If you have a talent for organization, ask if you can help them sort through and file paperwork. Or perhaps they need help switching out closets during season changes or organizing the pantry. These stubborn chores take more concentration than they may have on a typical day, so any help you can provide will be deeply appreciated.
- If you have a cabin or vacation home, give the family a free or discounted stay at a time when you won’t be using it or can’t rent it out. Treatments for autism can be very expensive leaving less discretionary money available for fun vacations.
This is just a short list. Comment below with any additional ideas. One parent in my support group suggested following the “see a need, fill a need” adage. And think of ways you can use your talents and things you already like doing to lend a hand. More than anything, the family will be deeply grateful for you thinking of them and entering into their world even in a small way
Thank you for reading. Wishing you all peace and love,