I am *the* most qualified person ever to write this post. Here’s why: I can’t imagine anyone having better friends and family than I do. Gawww.
So I’d like to share with you just a sampling of what they do right. Please understand that I cannot speak for everyone; I can’t list all the great things they do if I mean to keep this under 10,000 words; and I definitely do not intend to make excuses for bad behavior on our part.
But if you have a friend with an autistic child, you might see certain behaviors from us. And if you’ve ever wondered how to uniquely and profoundly love on these friends, here is a short list of some of my favorite hats my people have worn at various times.
1. The Elephant-Avoider
Yep, we have a kid with autism. We spend 100% of our waking hours thinking about it, and about 25% of our sleeping hours, too. It’s not that we don’t want to talk about it. We probably do. And sometimes, we have to. But you know what’s nice sometimes? A friend who wants to talk about knitting. Or what I’m watching on Netflix. Or photography, the hardships of bathing children, and her dream vacation to Europe.
Not always. I mean, if you never acknowledged that my son has autism, it’d probably make me feel bad. But for real–the first time a friend did this with me during a particularly traumatic month in William’s treatment, I was surprised, and I felt like a human being at the end of it. I’d forgotten what that felt like.
2. The Safety Net
I’ll be frank with you–sometimes we’re a gritty bunch. We might have a year that involves multiple incidents of crying in public. We might use bad language and get irrationally angry. We might say we don’t understand God.
Best thing you can do? Don’t be scandalized.
I hope you can have faith in my faith. I really am struggling for safe ground. But sometimes, I’m Peter, standing on the middle of the ocean, waving my arms like a fool and yelling for God to save me and my kid. Look me in the eye and nod, like I’m saying something legit, like…”coffee is really useful.” Know that I’ll get there, and I beg your prayers in the meantime.
3. The Imaginative Mind
One of the most appropriate verbal encouragements a friend has offered me was a thoughtful, quiet “You do a lot for your people.”
It wasn’t “I can’t imagine,” or “I could never do what you do.” She used her imagination, thought about what a life with autism might be like for her, decided it was a lot, and told me.
Because you can imagine, and you would do it. We parents of autistic kids are not born with a special Incredible Person Gene. We’re struggling our butts off. And truth be told, we didn’t think we could imagine it, either. But now we have to, and so we do.
So if you can imagine that what we do feels impossible, or hurts like a barefoot Lego walk of the heart, then you can imagine how it might feel. If you love your child, then you would do what I do. And if you’re any more organized than a hurricane (which I am not), you’d probably be better at it.
Autism, by nature, makes us especially visible in public places. And sometimes it’s embarrassing and sometimes we’re insecure. Sometimes we get really freaked out that you think we’re doing a bad job. If only we’d “show him who’s boss.” If only we’d read more books, hire help, or leave him at home.
We don’t mind if you pass along articles or make suggestions…what we worry about is that you’ll think we’re bad if we don’t use your advice, or if we discontinue it. Or that you’ll be angered at us in church and never say a word.
On the other side, I don’t necessarily want you to tell me how great I am. In fact, grandiose compliments can make me feel weird because I live with me, and I can give you a hundred reasons why they’re not true. Neutrality is what I need.
Or a little elbow squeeze, and a “hey, you’re doing okay.”
To all my friends and family, thanks for rocking this support thing. To those of you who wonder how to speak peace and love to families who live with autism, I hope this helps.