As an autism mom, I can tell you that time away from the boys is a rare and precious commodity. Every parent can use a little bit of time away from their kids, and this is especially the case when they have a child with autism! Time to go out on a date with your spouse, go grocery shopping by yourself, or to simply read a book in a quiet coffee shop are all amazing gifts to a parent of a child with autism. Sometimes we just need a tiny break, and they don't come very often!
This is a great post to share with everyone in your life that cares about your child and wants to help out somehow, but needs a little nudge. Thank you, Heather, for such great advice! Read on, friends.
As an aunt to a nephew with autism, I know all too well how hard it can be for my sister and her husband to be able to get out of the house and steal a few precious moments alone. My nephew is the greatest blessing in the world to them, but with his autism it’s also hard to find anyone willing to look after him while they go on a much-needed weekend getaway, or even just a date. Potential babysitters tend to shy away once they learn he has autism, mainly because they lack any real knowledge about the disorder and haven’t had any real interaction with children on the spectrum. And while it should be easier to find a friend or family member to watch him, it usually isn’t. I used to be just like them – unsure of what to do around my nephew, unsure of how to help. It didn’t help that we live halfway across the country from each other and don’t get to spend nearly enough time together. But after a lot of trial and error I’ve found a few ways that friends and family can become more at ease around children with autism:
1. Learn as much as you can about autism on your own time – The best way to become more at ease with something you know little about is to completely immerse yourself in information. Read as much as you can about it so that you understand more what autism is and what common characteristics of autistic children are. Having some working knowledge ahead of time makes it easier to transition into a real-life situation.
2. Spend quality time with the child around the parents – Before tackling a full-fledged babysitting adventure on your own, spend some quality time with the child and the parents. Let the child get comfortable with your presence, and gradually work into spending more time alone with him/her while the parents are still readily available. The more comfortable you both get with each other, the easier it will be once it’s just the two of you.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – One of the biggest problems my sister would face in the beginning is that everyone would shy away from asking any real questions ahead of time, despite the fact that they had plenty lingering in the background. Asking questions is the easiest way to learn how to handle different situations in a way the parents are OK with, so don’t be shy about it. You aren’t going to offend anyone by asking serious questions.
4. Know the child’s routine beforehand – Straying from the child’s normal schedule can cause outbursts and destructive behavior, making it imperative to adhere to their normal schedule as much as possible. Keep a list of meal times, play times, etc., handy so that you can reference it at any given moment.
5. Be respectful – Avoid yelling or using confrontational tones with affected children, be mindful of any barriers they may have (such as touch), and be respectful in your manner toward them. Respect breeds respect, just like discourse breeds discourse. Choose the former to help lay the foundation for a peaceful time together.
One of the problems that many family members and friends face is that they simply don’t understand autism. As much as they may want to help, helping also makes them nervous. The easiest way to alleviate this is by spending more time with the child and getting comfortable with each other together. One of the greatest gifts you can give to a parent who has a child with autism is time to themselves, so don’t shy away from learning and lending a helping hand.
Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to become a nanny by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She is available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.