Terrific Ways to Join Community Fun With Autism
For many of us, when we realize our child does not interact typically or when we receive the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, we retreat from the world, narrowing our social interactions to only the most necessary while we learn to cope.
My son seemed to delight in this retreat; we created a ‘nation of two,’ which allowed me to grasp what consisted of his world. He would have liked to remain in the ‘nation of two,’ but this was unsustainable and unhealthy. Gradually, his father was accepted, very much on a green card status, into our world, and we became a ‘nation of three.’ As the seeds of our son’s therapies took root and grew, our eldest son was admitted to the nation. Soon after, we were ready to open our borders and venture into our community.
It may be easy to stay in the nation of two or the nation of family, but it isn’t enough. As the primary caregiver, you are a complex, social creature who needs to interact with others for support, affirmation, entertainment, and respite. You are also your child’s first guide into that social world and must lead him/her as soon as you can. When I was ready, I was unsure where to go other than the local park. My son’s caring therapists and teachers guided me to a few places that made it easier to return to the bigger world.
Tap into the community of your child’s classroom. A good way to start is to volunteer in the classroom. I was encouraged by my son’s teacher to do this in Kindergarten and will always credit her with helping me find what have become dear friends among the parents of his classmates. It starts with a chat while you wait with other parents for the kids to settle into their groups and turns into coffee, play dates, and even nights out. I found that those parents were as grateful for my friendship as I was for theirs.
These places are good for the soul and offer a plethora of options for your child. They regularly hold events for people with special needs, adjusting the lights, sounds, and even arrangement to accommodate. My son loved trains when he was small, so we started with a train museum.
City Parks and Recreation:
Many communities have a department that organizes activities for the community: crafts, sports, hikes, gardening, outings, etc. If the community is large enough, they may offer modifications for your child or an aid to help him/her navigate the activity. This is a wonderful way to meet other parents of children the age of your child where you can grow your social community.
Modern churches are just that, modern. With a little online research, you can find a church that fits your spiritual philosophy, even if you don’t have one! These are places that welcome diversity and the general accepting atmosphere can provide you with a sense of well-being. Choose one that celebrates life and the human condition rather than focusing on dogma.
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Many gyms or clubs have childcare these days. Mine had childcare and a café/bar. For five bucks I could work out, shower, fix my hair and put on make-up if I chose, AND have time to sip a hot coffee or an adult beverage before I had to collect him. I started going to my gym soon after my son was born, so they knew us.
It was the first place I took him when I felt ready to deal with the world. The team of people that worked in the daycare were sensitive and understood that new moms needed time away from their babies, so they were used to accommodating. When I told them of his diagnosis and asked if he could come, they assured me that nothing had changed for them and he was always welcome. What it gave me was a couple of hours of normalcy where I could make small talk with people in the gym or locker room. It was here that I learned how to tell people that I had a son with autism.
There are support groups out there that ask very little of you but can provide limitless support. It was a long time before I shared that my son has autism on Facebook, and even now the sharing that I do is veiled. However, there is a FB group of parents in my community that has allowed me to share without having to explain myself.
This alone has been tremendously beneficial to my well-being. Once I posted: “My mom asked if my son could maybe sit through the whole Christmas dinner for once this year…” and the support and commiseration poured onto Facebook. I didn’t have to explain or defend. People in this group try to meet for coffee. It’s been a source of information, support, and humor. If there isn’t a Facebook group in your community, start one.
Regardless of where you are in your journey from being a ‘nation of two’ to a nation of all, start thinking now about the places that you can go to assist you in your immigration. It may be a past hang out like my gym, or somewhere you’ve never been. If your child’s therapists haven’t already suggested places, ask them.
This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power