In part 2, I introduced the idea of asking an autism family you love, what they need. This can get tricky. You see, as the mother in an autism family myself, and as a clinician who has spent countless hours with autism families, there’s something I have to make you aware of.

Autism Families do not like being in need.

We don’t do it very well and we’re not very good at asking for help when we need it.

Some of us would rather have our house go into foreclosure than ask a family member to help us make a mortgage payment. Asking for help is one of the hardest things for an adult person to do. Those who have gotten better at it, have probably done so as a result of therapy. It’s one of the skills I teach in my office every day.

So that being said, you can expect when you ask that family, they will say they don’t need anything, or that they are “Just fine- thanks for asking”.

That is, as we say in the south, hogwash.  Trust me, they are just being polite.

Don’t give up there. If the family won’t tell you what they need, give anyway.

Act locally. On a personal level; where you know the gift is going to help someone who needs it most. This is what makes the most impact in the autism community.

Even if you don’t think they will accept the help, offer anyway. At least they will know you care.

Here are a few things I’ve found in my practice and in my own personal experience, that are common needs across the board.

Therapy For the Child

It’s obvious that the child with autism will need therapy. And lots of it. It isn’t an option when raising a child with autism. The type of therapy will vary among families, but we can’t just decide to forego therapy. Often, many may not be covered by insurance. So finding out where the child attends therapy and perhaps paying for a session could be a huge blessing for that family. Even when a service is covered by insurance or a medical savings plan, it’s burned through pretty quickly. And there is almost always a therapy we would like to try but haven’t because it’s just not a financial priority.

Therapy For the Family

Here’s an area that is grossly overlooked. Autism affects the entire family. It’s inevitable that there will be fallout from caring for a child whose needs exceed everyone else’s. In addition to adjusting to the diagnosis, which has been described in research as a “traumatic event” for parents, the family also has a higher rate of ALL of the following: substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. Siblings in ASD families have a higher rate of clinical depression, ADHD and learning disabilities.

The Gift of Therapy

Offering someone therapy as a gift is kind of tricky. It’s kind of like giving a treadmill to someone who’s overweight; It can easily be misconstrued. So talking with the family is often advised. Our practice offers gift cards and autism packages for services run by a therapist but are packaged as “Support” rather than “therapy”.

It’s a gift that says, “I want to support you.” Rather than “I think you need help.”

The difference is slight, but important, nonetheless.

While these services are often difficult to locate, with a little Google research you can find the resources in any area. This is where those national autism mega-organizations can come in handy. An email or call to them can often lead you in the right direction.

I once had a family member call my office to find out the cost of one of my Extra-Special moms support groups. They then told the autism mom about the group, offered to cover the cost, AND offered to watch their child while they attended the weekly group. Needless to say, the mom, who was raising her child alone, appreciated it immensely and gained tons of insight from being part of a group where she received weekly support.

Obviously, not everyone has the means or the ability to offer such a generous gift.  But it’s a story I love to share.

More creative ways to support a family living with autism coming up in part 4.