Advice: Trying to Help Your Extended Family Understand Autism
When asked what the hardest thing to cope with when dealing with Autism is a lot of parents will name things such as lack of sleep or meltdowns as their top rating stressors. Truth be it, a lot of the time the number one stressor in our lives isn’t our Autistic child at all; it’s our extended family members. The ones that say they’ll be there, but obviously do nothing but judge. You know the ones I’m talking about; the Aunt, Uncle, or Grandparent that just simply doesn’t get it. With that ignorance a lot of the times come hurt feelings and harsh words.
The people we love often don’t understand that their words tend to cut deeper than those of strangers. Often, they have no idea they are even doing it. Other times they are aware of their prejudice.
What am I talking about and what do we do about it?
We’ve all heard them. Those hurtful comments at family get togethers or online. Those comments we hear, or the actions taken, or not taken by our loved ones. Maybe we left our child in their care and they did nothing to help them cope with a meltdown; maybe they constantly pass judgement with their harsh words such as, “If you didn’t give in all the time he/she wouldn’t be so bad. You are making it worse.” Or the famous, “Just whoop that kids butt.” Maybe you have even heard my all-time favorites, “How can someone screw up raising a kid so badly, if I had he/she they wouldn’t act like that.” And the lovely, “This is just bad parenting, Autism isn’t even a real thing.” Or possibly they just exclude your Autistic child all together. Their visits are seemingly getting further and farther apart. Whatever the case may be, their ignorance to our situations can be the biggest stressor in our lives.
Many people with no exposure or understanding of Autism honestly think it is just bad parenting. When they see your child meltdown or act out of the ordinary to them it is nothing more than a temper tantrum being thrown by a child that they may classify as a brat. This automatically leads them to the conclusion that the parent is to blame. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you say to them, they still don’t get it. Your explanation is treated as nothing more than an excuse for your poor parenting.
In these cases, it is important to come to the realization that no matter how hard we try we can’t change people’s minds for them or make them be willing to learn. No matter how much you love your “Aunt Sue” she may never be willing to learn more about Autism. She may never get you and your family. This never gets easier, but it is common knowledge that once a child is diagnosed people change. Our relationships with people change and that is something we must be okay with.
Families sometimes drift apart because of a blatant disregard for learning about Autism. Friendships often times even come to an end. Unfortunately, from time to time it just isn’t worth your breath to try to better these relationships. Just keep spreading the awareness to the ones that will listen and maybe one day that beloved family member will get it. This is one reason why spreading the awareness and acceptance of this disorder is so important for all of us to do, in force. That extends to our family members-not just the public. Our families need to be taught how to handle our children, just as we had to learn or may still be learning.
What if our family is willing to learn?
There are many occasions where you will bring up your concerns to your family member and instead of blowing you off they are very receptive to your advice and knowledge. In these cases, savor the opportunity.
Ideas of ways to help family members learn about Autism:
-Go to some Autism Walks
-Watch some movies about Autism
-Watch some documentaries on Autism
-Invite them to some Autism Support Groups
-Include them in therapy appointments
-One on One time
Taking them to some Autism Walks so they can see how big the Autism community in your area is happens to be a wonderful way to not only help them, but to help you connect to more families as well. These walks also let them see us support each other. They’ll get a chance to see families of all ethnic backgrounds come together for one cause.
If they are unable to participate in walks, show them movies that teach them. There are many documentaries out there now that help people understand Autism, as well as a movie called “Temple Grandin” that was put out by HBO years back that I recommend to everyone. If they are readers, recommend some books to them that helped you. I’d consult your autism support groups for book and movie ideas for your loved ones. I’d also recommend inviting your family members to join support groups; whether in person or online they are wonderful resources. They also help your family members to see that other families have similar struggles to your family.
Make sure your family member spends an adequate amount of time with your child, to help better understand him/her. Doing this will also help them get a good idea of your family dynamics and in which areas their help can be best used. Another idea is to include them in therapy appointments from time to time. Let them hear for themselves what the doctor is saying. Sometimes just hearing it from a professional themselves is all they need.
Just keep in mind that almost all families face this problem with extended family members. Always remember that it isn’t your fault if your family member doesn’t want to learn. If they do that is great! Teach them, be a resource for them. Help them learn to love Autism the way we do.