Autism Awareness is a great concept but people need to be aware of or focus on the individual with Autism AND their family of origin. For me, that means my biological family I grew up with who took care of me as a child/teenager/young adult. I found and still find it frustrating when people would put my family on a pedestal and say, “How can you do it, raising a special-needs child?” I wanted to say, “The same way you’d raise any child: with patience, kindness, a lot of hard work and outside support as needed.”
I find this statement a distancing statement as it seems to mean that you don’t need to talk about things or even ask, “How can I help?” It seems to be a way of saying, “You’re doing a great job; I obviously don’t need to help you at all.” All families need support at one time or another; having members in the family who have special needs means that you can’t use cookie cutter answers or quick fixes. If you want to help, there’s lots of ways to help but you really need to ask and listen because life is complicated and there are no easy answers.
There are a few things that my family would have appreciated and found helpful. Having a babysitter who is good with special needs children is vital. This is especially important if you have multiple children and the parents want to have some one-on-one time with each of the children. Another thing that could be helpful is having the babysitter watch all the children and giving the parents time to have a “date night.” It’s healthy and important for the parents to have adult time together. Making time to keep the connection between parents healthy and happy is essential to the whole family. Having someone who is willing to listen and be a sympathetic person who they can be honest with and talk about what’s actually going on in their lives is also pertinent. Again, it’s very important to appreciate that every family is different with unique needs and strengths.
My parents weren’t superheroes or saints. They were two people who fell in love and wanted to start a family. I really appreciate my parents because they always tried their best for all of us kids. They worked incredibly hard at understanding us as individuals. Were they perfect? No, but they tried hard. Do I get frustrated with my parents? Of course I did and still do. Did they get frustrated with me? Yes, absolutely. I always felt badly that my Mom especially had to concentrate on me and didn’t have as much time for my siblings.
My siblings aren’t superheroes either. They were just normal kids doing the best they could to grow up. I’m proud and glad that I have my siblings and parents. I think they did a great job of being my family. We’re all grown up and starting new phases in our lives constantly. I’m especially impressed with my siblings who now have families of their own with their own particular quirks.
What I wish for all families, regardless if they have special needs family members, is that they could be kinder, not just individuals, but families as a whole. My wish is that everyone would try their best to reach out not only to the individual who has Autism but to the whole family because it’s not easy for any one member of the family. It’s not enough to support the individual; it’s important to help, encourage, and inspire the entire family. After all, no one is an island. That is my hope and dream for the Autism Awareness and Acceptance movement.