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Navigating autism spectrum disorder: A guide to supporting children and their families

  • Category: Mental Health, Parenting
  • Posted on:
  • Written By: By Diane Franz Scheets, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist, Children’s Hospital New Orleans
Navigating autism spectrum disorder: A guide to supporting children and their families

April is Autism Awareness Month. If you're reading this, chances are you're looking for ways to support families with children on the autism spectrum. Well, you're in the right place. As a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with these resilient families.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how a person communicates, interacts, and understands the world. Families with children on the spectrum face unique challenges, leading to stress and social isolation. Each family’s journey with autism is different, so what works for one family might not work for another. However, with the appropriate support and resources, you can help families navigate these challenges, fostering growth and resilience that can truly make a difference.

Understanding autism: Making a lasting impact

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not always easily understood, but taking the time to educate yourself about the condition is the first and most crucial step towards offering meaningful support to families. ASD is complex and multifaceted, and each person’s experience with autism is unique. By familiarizing yourself with the characteristics, challenges, and strengths associated with autism, you can more fully comprehend the needs of children on the spectrum and their families, and provide support that is truly impactful.

There are many resources to deepen your understanding of autism. Books written by experts in the field, reputable websites dedicated to autism education, and workshops specifically tailored to autism awareness and acceptance are a few examples. Whether you’re a health care professional, educator, friend, or family member, expanding your autism knowledge provides the insight and empathy for effective support.

Listen and empathize

In the journey of raising a child with autism, the power of listening and empathy cannot be overstated. Sometimes, all a family needs is a compassionate ear and a supportive presence. Take the time to truly listen to their concerns, frustrations, and joys without rushing to judgment or offering unsolicited advice.
Simply being there to lend a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on can mean the world to a parent navigating the unique challenges of autism. Your empathy and support validate their experiences but also provides much-needed comfort and strength during difficult times. By offering a safe space for families to express themselves openly and without fear of judgment, you become an invaluable source of support in their journey.

Cultivate a supportive environment

Once you've educated yourself about autism and listened with empathy and understanding, here are additional ways to create a supportive environment for families with children on the spectrum.

  • Connect them with resources: Families often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and services available. Help them navigate this maze by connecting them with relevant resources. This could include autism support groups, therapy services, educational programs, or advocacy organizations.
  • Encourage self-care: Parents of children with developmental disabilities are more likely to experience higher rates of stress and mental health challenges. Encourage parents to prioritize self-care. Whether it’s taking a short break, practicing mindfulness, or seeking support from other caregivers, self-care is essential for maintaining their physical and mental well-being.
  • Offer practical support: Sometimes, the most meaningful support is practical assistance with everyday tasks. Offer to babysit for a few hours, help with errands, or provide meals. These small gestures and acts of kindness can make a big difference in lessening the load for families.
  • Be flexible and patient: Flexibility and patience are key when supporting families with children on the autism spectrum. Understand that plans may need to change at the last minute, and be patient during challenging moments. Your understanding and flexibility can go a long way in easing stress for the family.
  • Advocate for inclusion: Advocate for inclusive environments where children with autism are accepted and supported. Whether it’s in schools, community centers, or recreational activities, inclusion benefits everyone. Be a voice for change and promote acceptance and understanding.

Supporting families with children on the autism spectrum is a journey of compassion, understanding, and empowerment. By offering your support in meaningful ways, you can make a real difference in the lives of these families. So, let’s stand together and create a world where every child, regardless of their differences, is embraced with love and support.

To learn more about The Autism Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, visit:
The Autism Center | Children's Hospital New Orleans (