I put the blue flood lights outside my home, clip the puzzle piece pin to my lapel, and slide on the rubber bracelet I wear throughout April wondering… “Does any of this really drive awareness?” I don’t know, but in order to provide some practical knowledge that others may not be willing to share, here are a few thoughts, which may, or may not, be relevant to some of your co-workers who have children with autism.
To be clear: I don’t speak for all parents who have kids with autism, nor is this intended to be an exhaustive list. It’s also not a plea for sympathy. Rather, I hope that by understanding what your peers who live with children with autism experience outside the office, you’ll be able to better connect with them on a personal or professional level.
We seek friendships.
While there are robust special needs communities, having a child with autism is a full-time job. Some people feel awkward around special needs kids and don’t know how to act. Don’t feel you have to do or say anything differently or out-of-the-ordinary. We get lots of ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ in our day-to-day lives.
We envy your kids’ milestones.
While parents of children with autism often temper expectations, there are certain milestones many of us never experience. These include learning to drive, going to a prom, playing organized sports, or extracurricular activities.
Our weekends are quiet.
Due to the prevalence of sensory issues, many of us avoid things which involve live music or large crowds. No school or pro sports, concerts, amusement parks, etc.
Sleep irregularities are common among people with autism. Some of your co-workers may be perpetually sleep-deprived as a result of a child’s insomnia or nighttime anxiety. It’s OK to ask them how they’re *really* feeling. Showing care for a caregiver is a kindness we seldom get but truly appreciate.
We prioritize differently.
Office work is hardly ever a life-and-death matter, but special needs parenting can slip into the danger zone with daunting regularity. So, if your company honestly supports Family First values, we will be your most loyal employees.
Life can feel like the movie Groundhog Day.
Most people wake up and face new challenges every day, whereas caregivers to people with autism deal with the same, familiar challenges day in and day out. Working through inattention, emotional swings, lack of proprioception and inappropriate comments is a necessary but exhausting activity for caregivers.
It’s not a disease.
Autism is a condition. Please don’t say “That’s a shame” or “I’m sorry” when we mention we have a special needs child. Although we know it’s well-intentioned, a lot of us feel lucky to have such unique kids. If people with special needs make you uncomfortable, perhaps it’s time to give some thought as to why.
There’s no denying autism brings challenges but it also has fringe benefits. Although they differ from person to person, common skills include intense focus, high intelligence, and musical and artistic talents. Through osmosis, parents of these special kids acquire superpowers, including…
A lot of people with autism require extra time to process information, so we don’t expect instantaneous responses. Many people with autism prefer repetitive activities which they find calming but others would consider tedious. We have a talent for remaining stoic and keeping emotions in check.
As parents of children with autism, we’ve seen stuff you wouldn’t believe. In the course of any given day, we deal with myriad minor hindrances. Business problems, which are usually solvable, seem easy by comparison. We’re tough as iron and so are our kids.
It’s key for parents of children with autism to be optimistic. In fact it’s imperative to keep going, keep trying, and savoring the small wins. We approach every day with the hope of progress, and with realistic expectations.
If we can’t laugh at some of the situations autism gets us into, we’re not being realistic. Our kids say and do the zaniest things. We’d like to tell you about some of this hilarious stuff, but we usually won’t offer it up unless we’re asked.
Ask your friends who have kids with autism the strangest things they’ve done for them and you’ll be rewarded with some epic tales. We spend a great deal of time enabling our kids’ special interests, and find it empowering when we see them flourish.
As parents of children with autism, we understand what it means to be atypical. And most of us celebrate it. We stand up for those who are different and enjoy being on diversity and inclusion boards and projects.
This Autism Awareness Month, don’t let out of sight become out of mind. Engage your co-workers who have children with autism. Give them the same level of support they give their kids and you’ll become aware of what autism is — and what it is not.