Autism: It's All Relative

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Having a child with Autism changes the dynamics of your nuclear family, but it also changes your relationships and experiences with extended family members. Birthday parties, anniversary dinners, and holidays may never be the same after your child has been diagnosed with Autism. Not only are you trying to figure out how you are going to help your child, you are now responsible for explaining and training relatives, neighbors, and babysitters on how to interact with and support your child. Consider these strategies for including your relatives in your child's growth.

Invite your relatives to training sessionsThis is likely new territory for them. Invite them to take part in training sessions or workshops you attend so they can get information on your child's disability and have an opportunity to ask questions.

Bring your relatives to observe your child in schoolSeeing how others interact with your child will give them a good idea of how they can interact with her as well. It also allows them to see her skills and style of learning.

Give your relatives feedbackFamily members often hesitate because they want you to take the lead and don't want to "do it wrong." Say, "Thanks for handling that meltdown this afternoon. Joey really responded to you" Feel comfortable saying "Do you have any questions about Joey's tantrum this afternoon?" so they can ask questions. They may even ask if you were comfortable with how they handled the situation. You can say "Thanks for jumping in. You can also say ___ to Joey- that phrase really seems to make sense for him."

Ask your relatives for help!That's what families are for! It may be a simple task, like picking up your child's favorite book from the library or sitting with your child for a few minutes while you run to the post office. Asking for help shows you trust your family members and you need them, which makes them feel connected to you and your children.

Remind your family members that this is new territory for you as well and you are learning as you go. Promise to keep them in the loop as best you can on your child's progress, struggles, and techniques you are using to work on both. Also, tell them that while you appreciate their interest in your child, you still want to talk about "non-Autism" topics like which aunt is upset with which cousin and what's being served at the holiday dinner. Let them know you are grateful for your support as you continue to grow with your child.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.