Having a child on the spectrum can not only affect their social lives, but yours as a parent as well. As you drift from childless nights out and transition into family friendly cookouts and playdates, you may notice that not everyone can handle being in your social circle anymore. Or maybe the get togethers that are being chosen are just too difficult for your situation, and you find yourself always having to decline the invites. As I have said before, I truly believe that people as a whole, are more understanding than they used to be, I have been fortunate that the good has far outweighed the bad in my interactions with people. Just like most other aspects of raising a child on the spectrum, your friendships may look a little different than the norm. So, as a message to those looking at spending some time with families that have a child with autism, here are some things I think it would be helpful to know:
Coming to us may be easier
We have a weekly scheduled play date in the summer. No surprise, our visit is built on routine. It is probably not the most convenient for our friends for the play date to always take place at our house, but the truth is, it is easier. Damion knows his boundaries here more. I don’t have to spend the entire visit worried that he is getting into something or breaking a rule. Damion is less distracted on familiar territory as well, and taking away all the “new” that comes with a location change can help him focus on actually playing with the kids more.
Nights In instead of Nights Out
Finding babysitting is not always the easiest when you have kids with special needs. If you are like us, we are fortunate to have family help, but we find ourselves utilizing their help so much for the “have-tos” (like watching two of my children while I take Damion to therapy) that you feel bad asking them for even more help on the “want-tos”. Working out a night in with kids, can be a great way to include us families of kids with special needs.
Don’t be offended if we have to leave early
Sometimes we go places and things go smooth, sometimes we go places and I don’t get to talk to anyone at all and end up chasing Damion around to keep him out of trouble. The likelihood that we get multiple hours of hangout time with little to no issues at all is slim. It is likely that Damion will hit a wall, or we will hit one chasing him around. Whatever the case, be prepared that our stay may not be as long as you would expect from other families.
Vacationing as a Friends
Hanging out with my crew for a few hours can have its fair share of hiccups. So, our friends that are prepared to spend multiple days with us are in for quite a treat. They will likely get a good look at most, if not all, of your struggles. But we are thankful to have those friends that are willing to endure all the extra that comes along with staying with our family. We actually have friends that have been nice enough to invite us for a mini vacation each year to stay with them at their home at Lake Cumberland. The first few years were a bit rocky. We spent a lot of time trying to keep Damion from escaping the house. Another year we spent a lot of time trying to keep him from constantly flushing toilets. Each year we brought our current everyday struggles with us. We are now going on our fourth year in a row with this visit and we are hopeful that they continue to want us to come back. Each year Damion seems to do a little bit better than the one before. He is learning the overall routine. He knows the house, knows there will be UTV riding, and boating and swimming. Being in a big setting or unfamiliar place can be a lot for Damion, so luckily this trip is filled with plenty of things that he enjoys. We just do our best to give him the schedule we have planned and be prepared with things to get him through the down time.
Please keep inviting us
Looking in from the outside, it may seem like Damion does not want to play with friends, but I can tell you that he actually does. He actually loves having other kids around, even if he doesn’t always know the best way to go about interacting with them. Some things can be deceiving from outside. It may seem like we say no a lot when our friends invite us out. Again, to the outside this may seem like we just don’t want to go. That we aren’t trying enough to hold up our end of the friendship. But just like it is for Damion, things are not always the way they seem. Whether we make our issues known or not, just know, our answer is probably not because we don’t WANT to go. It may be because we know that the event just won’t be functional for our crew at this time. Maybe you are offering a night out and we know that we have just tapped out the limited babysitting resources that we have at our disposal. I fear a lot of times that our friends are just going to get fed up with asking and us always saying “no”. But hopefully it won’t be this hard forever. Hopefully those noes will gradually become more yeses. Don’t give up on us just yet, please keep inviting us!
Having friends for the family is not only a great thing for your child on the spectrum, but it can be important for your sanity as well. Being a parent to a child on the spectrum can sometimes feel lonely and if you stay home with your kids, it can feel just that much more all-consuming at times. Friends are important. I have been so fortunate to have multiple wonderful families that we have the pleasure of spending time with. I hope that you can find good friends too. Friends that not only welcome you and all that goes with spending time with your family, but friends that are understanding to the different needs that comes along with friending your family as well.