Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Light It Up Blue - Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness month, as I am sure you all know.  It seems that autism is the "in" thing right now, and people everywhere are jumping on the bandwagon to support it.  April 2nd was "light it up blue" night, and people nationwide put blue lightbulbs in their porchlights.  Several well known buildings and structures also lit up blue.  This month you will see people with their puzzle piece ribbons and pins, bracelets and necklaces.  But how can YOU support autism awareness?  How can YOU personally make a difference, show that you care?

There are quite a few autism charities and organizations that are in need of support.  Autism Speaks, the Autism Society of America, and Jacks Place for Autism are just a few if you are looking for more of making a financial contribution.  They do research, are advocates for the children, provide resources and information, and bring the families together.

But what if you personally know someone with autism?  How can you help out?  It all depends on how well you know the family.  If you are close to the family, but not the child, you can do something nice for the whole family.  When a child has autism, the entire family is affected, and sometimes it is nice to acknowledge that fact by recognizing how much they all do for the child.  Sometimes just giving them some recognition goes a long way.  Buying them dinner one night, or making them dinner.  If you feel comfortable enough with the child, you can babysit for a few hours so the parents can go out for some alone time.  Bring the parents a bottle of wine.  Or a case of beer.  Or a gift card out to dinner.  Stay later when the kids are in bed and just let them talk.  Let them vent, let them cry.  Let them voice all their worries and fears that no one ever bothers to ask about.  Let them be weak for a few minutes, since they have spent all day fighting to be strong.  Tell them they are amazing parents.  Tell them that you are there for them. 

And don't forget the siblings!  Sometimes they are in much need of some personal attention.  Take them out for an ice cream, or play a game with them.  Let them know how wonderful they are, and how much good that they do every day by being a sibling to the one with autism.  Let me talk about it.  Let them know you understand how hard it can be, and how unfair it might seem sometimes.  But also let them talk about other things, things that are important to them.  Give them your undivided attention, because that is something they probably don't get alot of.  Ask them questions about their lives, sports, school, friends.  Don't judge them for being selfish or mean if they get angry at autism.  We all do sometimes, and it is nice to have a safe place to let it out.

As for the child with autism, what can you do for them personally?  It all depends on the child, how well you know them, and what makes them tick (or go off like a time bomb).  If you are close to them, spend some quality time with them.  Connect with them on a personal level.  Find out what interests them, and share that together.  You have to be careful to follow their routines and rules and structure, however.  You don't want to force yourself on them, thinking you are doing your good deed, but completely freaking them out in the process.  Learn what their favorite music is, or movie, or book, or sport.  Bring them something little that represents that, and see where that leads.  Take it slow and follow their cues.  You can do more harm than good if you are trying to bond with an autistic child and you are not paying attentions to what they need, or want, or like.  You can freak them out in a second if you come on too strong.  Watch their eyes, and their hands, and their face.  Be careful of body contact.  Some crave it, some are horrified by it.  If you don't know, please ask first.  If you are trying to connect with them and it doesn't seem to be working, don't get frustrated or mad.  Stop and take a look at why it isn't working.  Sometimes it takes them a while to warm up to you.  Sometimes you might think you have made no impact at all, but later they will be talking all about you and everything you said and did.  I have seen that happen so many times.

All of these things may seem so small, and they may not seem like important things to do for autism awareness month.  But they are huge, and they get right to the heart of autism awareness.  All of these things are YOU showing that you are aware of autism, and you want to help out and support those affected where they need it most.  They need it in the day to day activities.  They need to know that they are not alone.  You can go to a big rally, or walk in a walk, or write a big check, but at the end of the day, autism is still there.  Sometimes the little gestures mean so much more.  And they are never forgotten.  I remember every time someone has done something for me and Katie, and my family.  I remember every conversation, every hug, every listening ear. 

There are a few things that you do not want to do, or to say, to families affected by autism.  You do not want to tell them they are lucky to have other children.  You do not want to tell them, "But they look so normal!"  Please do not tell them about every article and news story and internet link that deals with autism.  Sometimes we do not want to read about it any more.  Sometimes we do not want to see what others like us are going through.  At some point we might want to reach out and see how others deal with autism, but I know in the early years, if I saw one more magazine clipping about autism, I would cry.  I didn't want to watch it on TV because I lived it every day.  It is easier now, but you never know what point the family might be at.  Never assume someone is autistic just because of their behavior or speech.  Don't ask their family if they are.  If they want you to know, they will tell you.  Sometimes the family is in denial, or sometimes there isn't anything wrong with them at all.  You can't assume you know what autism looks like, and you might end up offending a lot of people that way.  Don't force your good deeds upon families affected by autims.  If you want to offer to babysit, or cook, or do whatever, please offer.  But also know when to accept a "no, thank you" without being offended.  Sometimes others good deeds just don't fit in with what the child needs or wants.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to support autism awareness.  You don't have to spend any money at all.  Your support, and your kindness, and your patience are the most important things you can give to help us all in our Adventures in Autism.

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