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How to Be a Friend to an Autism Parent During a Child’s Meltdown

Years ago, a friend did something for me as an autism mom that I’ll never forget. Following a meeting, she took me to pick up my boys from a sitter. My son with autism was not ready to leave. He was young then and transitions were still hard for him. Things fell apart. I could barely get him into her van. Throughout the meltdown, she remained calm and quiet. She didn’t yell at him to sit down. She didn’t try to tell me what to do. She just calmly put the van in drive and drove the less than a quarter mile to get us home.

My son still in meltdown mode, she grabbed backpacks and my youngest. Still calm, she took stuff to the door of our apartment building. She never made me feel badly about the situation. Her calm enabled me to stress less. I knew I didn’t have to worry what she was thinking. It was a gift.

How can you be a good friend to an autism parent during a meltdown?

  • Just like my friend, remain calm during meltdowns or other intense situations. Almost every child, special needs or not, has a meltdown at one time or another. It’s just part of life. Your composed demeanor allows your friend to focus on what needs to be done.
  • Help. If it is a situation like an all-out falling apart, do what you know would help–pick up items that need to go home, hold the hand of a younger sibling and walk them wherever they need to go, get a child’s comfort item, etc. If you don’t know what would help and it is possible, just ask, “How can I help?” Sometimes you might not be able to ask, but a simple face gesture or mouthing of words could work. Note: If your friend says there’s nothing for you to do, be okay with that.
  • Don’t tell your friend how to handle a situation. Unless you’ve experienced something similar and you have a good rapport with your friend, don’t say anything. Definitely don’t say anything in the middle of a challenge.
  • Don’t try to take over a situation. The more people and voices added to a situation, the more the child with autism spirals into fight or flight mode. If a bunch of people are talking, he cannot hear his parent’s voice. He needs less noise, not more. Of course, if you are part of a pre-established exit plan, that is a different story.
  • Offer encouragement. A smile, a hug, a “you’re doing great” strengthens your friend while she works through the challenging moments. Bringing a cup of coffee or sending a quick text encourages her when she wants to cry.

Do you know that those five suggestions have in common? They’re not hard. They’re not expensive. With these simple tips, you , too, can be a good friend to an autism parent when their child has a meltdown.

Are you an autism parent? How has someone helped you, during a meltdown or otherwise? Tell me in the comments!

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Jenny Herman

Jenny Herman wants to live in a world where dark chocolate dispensers reside on every corner. As a homeschooling special needs mom, she’s been featured in Autism Parenting Magazine, Wit and Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids: Mostly True Stories of Life on the Spectrum, and various blogs. If she survives the onslaught of testosterone in her home, she may take a moment to blog, read a book, try a new recipe, or loom knit a gift. You can find Jenny’s book The Power of One: Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life on Amazon.

One thought on “How to Be a Friend to an Autism Parent During a Child’s Meltdown

  1. I’m not an autism parent, but my older brother has autism, so I grew up watching my mom handle it. As a child, it was always a blessing having another adult available to help us out when my mom was busy helping my brother through a melt down. One of the biggest blessings for her was having ladies from our church who could watch my sister and me at the drop of a hat if things got dangerous or if she had to take my brother to the hospital. I didn’t understand that growing up, but now I’m very thankful those ladies were there as a support, because I don’t know what it would have been like to witness my brother on the way to a psychiatric hospital. We were so young at the time, I don’t know how it might have affected us. So yes, as an autism parent, having a good friend or family member who can watch the other kids in case of an emergency, that’s huge!

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