If you want to find out who your real friends are, raise a child with autism. I’ve heard it said that when a child is diagnosed with autism, people don’t send cards, flowers, or casseroles. In fact, I suspect most people aren’t certain how to offer comfort and support, yet those who reach out to families touched by autism are truly a blessing. Along with our family members whose prayers, concern, and understanding have made the path easier, others have stepped up and helped in many ways.
Shortly after we discovered Alex did, indeed, have autism, I needed to talk with other parents who were in the same boat we were. Fortunately, the Internet makes the world much smaller, and I was able to find support groups online for parents of children with autism. Being able to compare notes, share concerns, and learn tips from other moms whose children also had autism was very helpful. Along the way, I found kindred spirits with whom I could empathize; I still keep in touch with some of these special moms through Facebook and e-mail. Our sons have grown up together, and our common experience bonds us. Along with the autism moms I met on the Internet groups, two of my autism mom friends were introduced to me by mutual friends who thought we could benefit by sharing ideas, and they were absolutely right. Knowing that these other moms really understand my life because their lives are quite similar has been comforting through the years.
An amazing source of support for me has been the friendship of my co-workers who have taken a genuine interest in Alex and shown compassion to me. For example, my friend the German teacher knew Alex was fascinated by Las Vegas and slot machines, so he brought back from his trip to Las Vegas casino coin cups used for playing slot machines and tourist magazines (which his wife judiciously censored by removing the ads for escort services). Knowing that Alex loves math, my friend the math teacher sent home old math textbooks for Alex to keep. My friend the secretary knew Alex was interested in computers, so whenever I brought him to school, she would let him use her computer. Others would pass along autism research they’d seen or heard. When I was overwhelmed during the early teen years, my friend the guidance counselor listened sympathetically and always made me feel better after we talked. My friend the social studies teacher regularly asks me how Alex is doing and always reminds me to tell Alex that he said, “Hi.” He was also thoughtful enough to loan his Play Station game system for Alex to use when Alex’s beloved computer was being repaired. My friend the science teacher, who has a child with similar issues, and I compare notes often. We frequently start our conversations commiserating, but we nearly always end them laughing, finding the humor in situations that probably no one else would understand, but is welcome relief to us. The mother of an adult special needs child, my friend the media center secretary, has been a tremendous support through the years. Handling her situation with admirable grace, optimism, and humor, she has been a gift from God—a trusted confidant and mentor to me as I navigated uncertain waters. These are but a few examples of the wonderful people I am fortunate to have as colleagues. Their understanding and kindness mean much more than cards, flowers, or casseroles. Their ongoing expressions of caring for Alex and for me have offered tremendous support, probably more than they even know, and I am grateful to have such devoted friends.
“Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12