The Center for Disease Control (CDC) now estimates that as many as 1 in 50 children being born in the United States today will be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. 1 out of every 50. That means you probably know somebody with autism. It means your kids most likely have a classmate with autism. It means autism is becoming more routine.
Unfortunately, it doesn't mean those with autism are being treated well. Or even that it's easy to make friends with them. But we, as a whole, need to do better; we need to try harder. And part of that comes from knowledge, understanding, and awareness.
Angela Haupt wrote an article for US News & World Report titled "How to be a Friend to Someone with Autism". It's a good article - definitely worth reading. Her take-aways are highlighted below (with my comments after each bulletpoint):
- Don't assume he or she doesn't value friendship. He probably does, but making new friends can be a daunting task for someone with autism.
- Be patient. It might take awhile to develop a relationship - that's ok.
- Communicate clearly. Slang, nuances, and body language can be hard to understand.
- Make plans (together). Everybody likes being included and feeling part of a group, autistic or not.
- Respect sensory differences. Bright lights, loud noises, itchy long sleeve shirts - if they bother them, they bother them. Don't try to downplay it or figure out why - it won't make sense to you, but it's real to them.
- Don't treat people with autism like a project. Don't pity them, and don't try to change them; just get to know them.
- Stand up for your autistic friend. Bullying is common for those with autism; having a friend can make a huge difference.
That's a pretty good list. Maybe not all-encompassing, but it's a good place to start.
On a Personal Note
My oldest son has autism, and while he doesn't have a lot of friends, he very much enjoys the friends he has. Here are some pictures from this spring:
Ran into a long-time friend (also with autism) at a play presented for children with special needs.
At the Renaissance Fair with cousins
Sometimes it's just a boy and his dog.
This series is one of my favorites - doing a workout routine with his brother at the park over spring break. "Anything you can do I can do, too."
Thanks for reading.
- Chris Butterworth