Our most difficult task as a friend is to offer understanding when we don't understand. Robert Brault
At a recent recital, a boy with autism sat in front of us. He would reach back and pat my leg, then the leg of my husband. His mother would ask him to turn around and he would – then it would be too much for him and he’d reach back again. It wasn’t bothering us, but I’m sure his mother was worried it would. I’ve been thinking of it since then and wonder what we are doing to encourage these mothers who never get a moment to relax.
1 in 88 children are born with autism. We often overlook the mothers of children who have autism. Every child diagnosed with autism is affected differently. But their mothers are all the same – working hard to be their advocate and to help their child live the best life they can. Too often our words can make them feel like an unfit mother – as though the diagnosis is somehow caused by inferior mothering.
Here are some ways you can encourage these mothers:
1. “Love me, love my child” isn’t just a saying.
Loving a child with autism encourages their mother. Most children with autism have something they obsess over. In “The Eagle Tree” by Ned Hayes, March loved trees – most of all, climbing them. A book about trees, leaves, or a tree wall art would make mother and child smile. Take time to interact with the child over his obsession.
2. Celebrate their child
A few weeks ago a sweet girl was celebrating her 18th birthday party. Unable to deal with a traditional party, her mother planned a mail celebration to cater to her love of mail. Her suggestion for gifts was a $5.00 McDonald’s gift card or $5.00 so she could shop at Dollar Tree, where knows exactly what she wants to purchase every time. Michelle (Mom) was overjoyed when 84 cards showed up. She gathered them as they came in and put them all in the mailbox on her birthday. The joy on this sweet girl’s face when she saw that much mail was priceless.
3. See the positives
Love these little ones for who they are, instead of judging them for who they aren’t. Some people see the child’s arm flapping and never stop to understand his action is an expression of his joy. They see the fidgeting and fail to see their beautiful smile. They see the intense obsession, yet don’t stop to listen to the statistics they have committed to memory. Stop seeing the negatives and rejoice in the uniqueness of the child. Verbalize by saying, “He’s so good at…”
4. Educate your children and plan dates
By educating your children about autism, you are giving them the chance to understand, and in understanding, know how to approach with an offer of friendship. When your children understand why a child with autism flaps, fidgets or is obsessed with one subject, they can become inclusive. Invite them over for play dates, have the family over for supper, plan outings with them. A grocery story is a nightmare for children with autism. Ask your friend to leave their child with you while they grocery shop. Divorce rates in families with autism is 80%. Give the parents a date night. Once you and your children understand the variables, offer child care for a few hours or overnight. You may lose one night of sleep, but your friend can sleep through the night.
5. Bring caffeine and chocolate
Some days are harder than others. Their child may be up roaming in the night. Show up at their door with a coffee shop drink. Find out their child’s favorite snack. Don’t forget the siblings. Parents, by necessity, need to give more attention to their child with autism. Make sure you make their siblings feel special, too.
Does God equip these mothers-of-children-with-autism? Definitely. But, you may be the one He wants to use to encourage them. They need someone who accepts and encourages, someone who shows up at the door with their favorite drink. Someone who is willing to clean the bathroom or sit on the couch and listen. Perhaps they need you to worship with them, read Scripture, and sing songs of praise, just to help them rest in the arms of Jesus a while. They also need someone who will chatter about the important to them, make them laugh, and discuss new fashion trends. Sometimes they just need distracted.
A child with autism is so much more than their diagnosis. They can be silly, curious, caring, focused, intelligent, strong, loving, and, like your child, very different from each other. Get to know them, and you will be sheltering a child. Love them, and you will be sheltering your friend. Try it, and you’ll find out who receives the biggest blessing of all.