During the month of April, the media is full of autism news and sometimes distant relatives and friends reach out with empathy and new understanding. Puzzle piece ribbons adorn cars, t-shirts and store windows. It is Autism Awareness Month and Light It Up Blue from Autism Speaks is a new campaign to bring awareness that results in everyone wearing blue and tops of buildings being lit in blue. Walk Now for Autism in Chicago is just around the corner so many families in Chicago are fundraising. Autism is all around us in April!
It all sounds like a big celebration, right? April is not a celebration for many of the families I work with. Many moms tell me that they hate the month of April. Many tell me they feel the most depressed and worried about their children in April. All the news stories and phone calls send them into reliving the moment they heard “Your child has autism” and their lives changed in a way that anyone who does not live in the world of autism can truly understand.
April is also a time when many parents who have children affected by autism spend in IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings and planning out their child’s next school year. This means reading through lists of goals and benchmarks their child has or may not have reached. Many parents that I work with are exhausted and are having sleepless nights filled with worry.
But what happens when April and Autism Awareness Month is over? This is what I worry about. Who will help support so many families and children when the hype dies down? April is not the end of autism awareness for families that are affected. Please help families feel less isolated and alone. Autism is not contagious! Life continues with autism!
I am frequently asked: How to help support a family affected by autism?
• Many families just want to be like other families and have friends invite them over to play or have dinner (don’t worry about having the right toys or food to eat-parents are always happy to bring what their child enjoys). The invitation will mean the world!
• Ask a family member to tell you their child’s favorite thing to do, read, or play
• Ask if you can run some errands on a regular basis. Therapy appointments mean not a lot of time to pick up dry cleaning, mow the lawn, or hit the grocery store.
• Maybe the family could use a fundraiser to help raise money for therapy or an iPad. Insurance does not cover many of the services that children affected by autism need and iPads don’t grow on trees yet. A family that I work with told me the neighborhood kids recently set up a lemonade stand. In a day, they made enough money to buy an iPad! The family that helped organize the lemonade stand purchased the very needed iPad that night and their son was using his Ipad to communicate and play with all of the kids in the neighborhood the next day!
• Give a mom of a child with special needs some pampering. She may not be comfortable leaving her kids with a sitter, but if she lives in Chicago then call Head 2 Toe Mobile Spa! Jenny and her staff are fabulous and great at working around all types of kids!