Monday, May 3, 2010

5 things you can do to help families with Autism


It's hard not to hear about autism in the media these days. With the ongoing controversy surrounding autism and vaccinations, to missing children who have autism, to hearing about a child who has recovered from autism, there are many different angles for news agencies to report on this topic. With 1 in 91 children being affected, the general public has gotten decent at recognizing the signs of autism. But what the general public doesn't know is how to help those individuals and their families who are battling this disorder. So let's turn Autism Awareness Month into Autism Action Month. Here's five things you can do now to help these families:

1. LOOK BEYOND THE LABEL TO SEE THE CHILD. Many times over kids are ostracized, ridiculed or bullied in school and the community because of their differences. If you look beyond the odd behaviors, unusual speech or awkward social skills, you'll notice that our kids are just like any other child. They have their likes and dislikes, they enjoy video games too, and they like to be involved in their communities. Having a child with autism can be isolating for a family if the child has many sensory issues (such as with loud noises or crowded, tight surroundings). Families want to be able to provide their child with a social outlet and sometimes require special accommodations to make it possible. If you are arranging an event for your local community, talk to disability organizations to find ways to include those with special needs. If you are having a birthday party, please invite the child with autism. Talk to the parents regarding any special requirements or ask that the parent stay for the duration of the party in case a situation arises.

2. SHOW COMPASSION RATHER THAN JUDGEMENT. I've heard countless stories of rude stares, harsh comments and unwanted advice regarding parenting skills. Becuase there are no tell-tale physical signs of autism, often the general public can't "see" the disorder and will put the blame on the parents for not raising the child properly. There is still so much we don't know about autism. These parents are doing the best they can given a very difficult situation. Think twice before you pass judgment. That unruly, screaming, tantrumming child in the grocery store or library may have autism.

3. OFFER HELP. If you see a parent struggling in the store, ask if there is anything you can do to help the parent. If you are at the playground and a child is having a meltdown, ask if you can help carry items to the car (if they have any). If you have a neighbor who has a child with autism, offer to help the parent as much as you are comfortable with. For some people that might mean watching the child while the parent runs errands or just playing with the child in the backyard while mom cleans the house. It could be something as simple as offering to run an errand for the parent to ease the burden of tasks. The divorce rate among autism families is reported to be near 80%. More often than not, single moms do not have a support system in place to help provide for respite care. Just recently, the state of Indiana eliminated the respite care program for special needs families, which leaves some families with 100% of the task of taking care of the child and the house. Please offer assistance if you are able.

4. GET INVOLVED. Get involved with an autism organization of your choice. There are several organizations that represent autism families and all of them could use your help in organizing fundraisers or utilizing any special knowledge you might have (such as legal, financial, education or recreation) to help their cause. The National Autism Association of Northwest Indiana is currently seeking a person to fill the Secretary position. Please contact Lisa Fox at
for more information. You can also get involved by showing your support with by attending fundraising events or organizing a fundraiser for the organization. 5. HELP STOP RESTRAINTS & SECLUSION IN SCHOOLS. Currently there is proposed federal legislation (bill S.2860) that will prevent the use of restraints on students with autism as well as prohibit seclusion of the student who is enrolled in a public school. In 2009, there was an alarming number of students with autism who were tasered, handcuffed, smacked, locked in closets -- and we only heard about the ones who made the headlines. One case of using restraints ended with the student dying. This is not acceptable for the general student population and the special needs student population should be no different. Please visit the National Autism Association's web site (link: and fill out the form to contact your Senator to ask them to co-sponsor this bill. Lisa Fox is the President of the National Autism Association of Northwest Indiana, which represents all families affected by autism in Lake and Porter counties. For more information, please visit


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