So you love a family living with autism and want to support them. April is autism awareness month and you’re just not sure how to do this adequately. After all, every disease, disorder and cause has an “Awareness” day, week or month.

After a while this gets old, doesn’t’ it?

The Autism Epidemic

But autism is now affecting more and more children every year. Some research scientists estimate that eventually half of all our children with be affected. The research varies on the year, which is estimated sometime between 2025-2050.

HALF. OF ALL CHILDREN. WITH AUTISM.

(shudder.)

And now, it’s affected a family you care about. But how do you support them?

In case you missed the first few posts, and jumped right to this one, I need to reiterate that donations to national mega-autism organizations is not my first choice of support activities. I am a firm believer in grass-roots giving, and there is no better way to do this than to identify a family you love who is living with autism, and ask them how you can best support them.

Here are a few more creative ways:

Provide Child Care

This is not for everyone. Children with autism often have difficult behaviors, complex diets and medical conditions that require knowledge and experience.

But if you are one of the people who can offer this service, please do. Even a few hours of down-time can make all the difference to these parents. Often, just having an extra set of eyes on the child while the mom or dad can prepare dinner is an incredible blessing.

If there are siblings in the family, offer to take that child (or children) overnight or out to a movie. It makes a huge difference when that parent has one less child to worry about.

Drop Off A Meal

When a child is diagnosed with autism, many families become isolated. They are not able to attend as many social functions as they used to. So the phone calls stop. The invitations stop. People tend to forget about you.

It’s not their fault, exactly. Life moves along. But when a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, people rally around, call to check up, and bring casseroles.

I cannot emphasize enough the absolute joy of having someone bring my family a meal. Even if my child, who is allergic to almost everything, can’t eat it, whenever someone has brought over food, it’s been a huge help. When a sleep-deprived autism parent is driving a child to therapy several times a week, and trying to follow through with therapy homework, or has to work a job in addition to that, and other kids to care for, meal planning and preparing becomes a challenge.

My mother-in-law, who is an absolute cheerleader and supporter of our family, realized when my son aged around 12, that she could no longer babysit. This was not a surprise, as my son had become aggressive at that time and we wanted her to be safe. So rather than sitting for us, she began making dinner for us every Tuesday evening, and has been doing this for years. Occasionally she eats with us, but usually she simply sneaks into our house while we are all at school and work, and leaves a glorious, home-made meal in my fridge. It doesn’t hurt that she’s an amazing cook, either.

Cash

“CASH?! What are you, my uncle?” –Elaine from Seinfeld

Yep. I said it. Cash money.

Shameless, I know.

Our culture, like Elaine from Seinfeld, has decided it is inappropriate and tasteless to give money as a gift. But if there’s one thing autism has taught me it’s to let go of many of those societal expectations, in favor of brutal honesty.

Let me illustrate with another personal story.

My husband’s brother and his wife were married several years ago. Our son had recently been diagnosed at the time and we were struggling to pay for his therapies. At their rehearsal dinner, they handed us a check for the amount they would’ve spent on wedding favors, written out to our son’s fund. At the wedding reception, there was a card on each table that eloquently stated what they had done in lieu of favors. Not only did it help our family at the time, but it touched the hearts of each and every person who attended their wedding-especially ours. What better expression of love on a day that’s all about it.

And who wants those chalky mints wrapped in tulle, anyway?

It was a moment and a sentiment my husband and I will treasure forever.

More Ideas

Still feel funny about handing cash to your favorite autism family? I don’t blame you.

That’s why God made gift cards.

Grocery Stores, Book stores, and general department stores like Target and Wal-Mart are places where our families spend an inordinate amount of our hard-earned dollars.

When our basic needs are taken care of, (ie: food, water, clean under ware) something magical happens: our sympathetic nervous systems can chill out a bit. And that’s good for our health.

In part 5, we’ll finish up with some cost-free ways to support the autism family you love.