Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means that each child can be affected in different ways and each child can be helped in different ways. As the number of children diagnosed with autism rises all over the world, chances are, right here in the Caribbean, you already know a family who is challenged with this disorder.

We all know that saying things like…

                Why don’t you leave your child at home?

                Your child is frightening my children!

                I am so sorry for you.

                Why don’t you try the gluten-free, live-food diet?

 …are all painful, insensitive and unnecessary statements. But what SHOULD you say or do when a friend tells you their child has been diagnosed with autism? We have a few suggestions.

A   Ask how you can help

U  Understand how the family feels

T  Teach your children about autism

I  Individualize the Issues

S  Support the cause and share all you learn

M  Make memories: Celebrate the joys! Share the sorrows.

Ask how you can help

Never assume you know what the family needs. Sometimes they may need a babysitter for a few hours. Maybe they need help with the non autistic children, to allow them to spend more time with their autistic child. Sometimes offering to visit the house when there is no babysitter is just the ticket to include a Mommy who may be feeling overwhelmed or left out. A listening ear, offered with a non-judgemental heart, is a rare and precious gift. Do you have one to share?

Understand how the family feels

Allow the family to lead the way. Ask them how they feel. Not every day is a ‘bad day’. Children with autism develop, learn and change and just like parenting any child; parenting a child with autism has its ups and downs. Never assume that parents are feeling sorry for themselves.

Teach other children

Children can be cruel. Children are always curious. Teach other children how they can play with children with autism. Teach your children to accommodate and interact with your friend’s child with autism. Prevent bullying and discrimination. Teach kindness.

Individualize the Issues

Let the parent and family know that you do NOT know about THEIR child’s disorder. Even if you have experience with an individual with autism before, every child is different. Ask them to tell you more. What makes their child different? Is there something you should do to prepare for when that child is coming to visit? Is there anything they cannot or should not eat? Become aware of the special needs and be supportive in a meaningful way.

Support and share what you learn

Support the cause in any way you can: can you help with the website, sell raffle tickets, or simply tell another friend how to help. Share everything you know. Be a voice for the cause.

Make Memories

Children with autism can achieve goals. They can develop. They can be naughty. They are children, before they are children with autism. Parents of children with autism can be great parents. They can be interactive and fun parents. They can be tired and frustrated parents. They enjoy parenting. They love their children. Celebrate the JOYS, Share the Sorrows. Your presence and caring can mean so much to a family that often feels misunderstood, rejected and alone.

Autism Awareness Month in Jamaica has begun again and the national and individual challenges for children with autism and their parents continue. Let’s do all we can to support them.

We at Tots to Teens are happy to have a team of therapists who offer Assessment, Counselling Psychotherapy (for talkers) and Art Therapy (especially for “non-talkers”  or pre-verbal clients) to children and families of children with CHRONIC ILLNESSES. We are working to be an excellent source of professional help to Jamaican families dealing with these sensitive and specific issues. Call us at the Office of Tots to Teens: 978.8535 or email us for more information