Many people will come in and out of our lives for a season in time. If we are lucky, there will be those few friends who will remain friends through every season of life.
That remains true for a very good friend of mine. We both went through various stages of life — one being becoming mothers. What a blessing to watch our little ones grow up together. To watch these two be the best of friends is such an amazement. Our motherhood journey does have its differences like any other family does. But her motherhood journey is different because my friend found out that her son — at the age of three — has non-verbal autism.
Autism is defined as a serious development disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. Being on the spectrum, however, can mean so many different things for each individual child. The journey is one that we may not understand unless we live it. Therefore, as a friend, we have to teach ourselves to be the best friend we can be as they go through the good and bad times. As the years have passed, I am learning the do’s and don’ts of being there for my friend.
Don’t Treat Her Child Any Differently
Every child is unique in his or her own way. Children with autism should not be treated any differently. They may have sensory issues to be aware of. Knowing this will help at play dates, when the child needs to have a moment alone. You will be aware of the signs and be able to take your child aside and explain to her why a break is needed.
Lend Her Your Ear
Being a mother with a child with autism can be daunting. Many times, she just needs us to be a friend and just to listen. We don’t need to give our advice because we aren’t in her footsteps. But just being there to let her express her joys and stress may be all she needs.
Don’t Stop Including Her
Having a child on the spectrum can be isolating. It can be hard for a mom to keep a schedule because she doesn’t not know if the child will be able to attend events or parties until the day of, so continue to invite her. If she shows up, she may not be able stay long. That’s okay because we have to understand that sometimes going out in public can be overwhelming not only to the child, but also to the parents.
Help Where You Can
Although we can offer up babysitting, for some children on the spectrum that may not be possible. But find out where you can help out, and be there. Sometimes she may just want someone to join her on shopping trips to help keep her child entertained. She may not express to you, but she worries about being in public and something upsetting her child. Having that companion to help her leave quickly can also relieve that stress.
Be Mindful of Your Words
Stimming is when a child with autism is over stimulated. It can differ for each child. Some will need to rock and some will need to pace back and forth; a repetitive action can help sooth them. Unfortunately, people are so quick to be judgmental of others — especially when someone is not like everyone else. If a child begins to stim, that can be perceived as an unruly child just throwing a tantrum. We are human, and we do stare, but some will actually make comments aloud. Please be mindful of the signs of a child stimming and reactions of others around. Be kind. Simply saying three words — may I help — can mean the world to a parent trying to calm her child.
Educate to Be an Advocate
This is the most important of all. I cannot say this enough, but educate yourself. The best way to be a friend is to educate yourself, and you can then educate others. Even with all our resources today, so many people do not understand. Educate yourself on the different signs of stimming. Know when a child is at a restaurant and cannot control his or her excitement or laughter. Know that when he or she is at an event and goes to a corner and sits alone, space or just needing quiet time is needed. Know that when they meet strangers, some may not say hello or make eye contact. By knowing these signs in advance and educating others, especially our children, we can bring awareness and acceptance one person at a time.
The Fort Worth Moms Blog hosts 20 Neighbor Groups via Facebook, including the Moms of Special Needs Tarrant County. These groups are free to join and offer online and offline opportunities to build relationships and gain resources from other moms in the area.