Families with autistic children: support from family and friends
If you have an autistic child or children, your extended family and friends can be key parts of your informal support network.
The best way to build this support network is to help family and friends learn about your child’s autism. This is especially important in the early days after diagnosis. Just like you, people in your support network need to understand what autism means for your child and your family.
- acknowledge the feelings of family and friends – they might be having trouble understanding the diagnosis and what it means
- give them basic information about autism
- let them know how autism affects your child and your child’s behaviour – for example, your child sometimes gets overwhelmed and needs quiet time on their own
- tell them how best to connect with your child – talk to them about your child’s likes and dislikes and the best ways to communicate with your child
- organise extended family get-togethers and activities that suit your child’s needs and abilities.
Handling the responses of extended family and friends
Extended family and friends will probably respond in various ways to your child’s autism diagnosis and behaviour. Some might be ready to support you and your child straight away. Others might take a bit longer to understand how they can help.
Some family and friends might find it hard to support you. Or they might respond in ways that aren’t very helpful. If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do:
- Make sure you’re ready with some basic information about autism and how it affects your child. Unhelpful reactions usually happen because people aren’t sure how to respond, don’t understand or feel uncomfortable.
- Let your family and friends know which comments and reactions are helpful and supportive and which ones aren’t.
- Focus more on your relationships with supportive people. This means you’ll get the emotional support you need.
- Help family and friends see your child’s strengths and what your child brings to your life.
- Give it time. Generally, things will get better as people understand more about your situation.
To help extended family and friends help you, don’t be afraid to let people know what you need. This might be cooking you a meal every now and then, taking you out for coffee, babysitting or just listening when you need to talk.
Grandparents and autistic children: a special relationship
When a child in the family is diagnosed with autism, the effects on grandparents are likely to be similar to those on parents.
Initially some grandparents might be shocked and sad. They might also feel worried for the whole family. For example, they might worry about their grandchild’s future, the demands on the child’s parents, or the wellbeing of other children in the family. Many grandparents also show great resilience, unconditional love and support for their families.
How grandparents can help
When they’re possible, strong relationships with grandparents are good for children’s development, just like strong relationships with parents. They give children a sense of belonging and help children build their self-identity.
And when grandparents live close by, they might also be able to help with:
- providing social and emotional support – for example, by spending special time with their grandchild
- caring for their grandchild sometimes
- looking after siblings or household tasks
- advocating in the community or being a source of information about autistic children.
Some families might not have the support of grandparents, but they might choose to ‘adopt’ a special friend, or have people in their lives who take on the role of grandparents.
When grandparents have concerns
Grandparents of an autistic child can sometimes have concerns about their grandchild’s autism diagnosis or how they can help.
If your child’s grandparents talk to one of your child’s health professionals, it could help them understand your child’s diagnosis. And going to a therapy session with you could help them learn how to use the same strategies when your child is with them.
If your child’s grandparents have worries and concerns, it’s great if you can talk them through together. An open, constructive approach can help your whole family have happier, healthier and stronger relationships.