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Three Ways You Can Help a Mom With Autistic Children

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momlogic's Vivian:

As we've seen from a series of downright upsetting events in the news, the stress of raising an autistic child can be overwhelming enough for moms to snap and do the unthinkable. In the past two weeks alone, THREE autistic children were murdered by their moms.


With three daughters on the autism spectrum, Kim Stagliano knows these stressors quite well. "When you are diagnosed with something like diabetes, there is a plan," she says. "Autism is very different. Your suggestions, your access to services and the budget availability is subject to where you live and who you happen to see. There's very little handholding, and that's why parents are under so much stress. You [must] always be hyper-vigilant of [the autistic child's] safety. They might step right into traffic, because they don't have a sense of danger. So every moment is fight-or-flight. There is very little letting your guard down, because if you do, the results can be catastrophic."

Another stressor: The simplest of social situations can easily become a minefield to navigate. "When you go into a grocery store with a child in the terrible twos and your kid has a tantrum, you get knowing smiles from other parents," says Stagliano. "Autism is invisible until you see the behavior, which sometimes seems really odd. They have meltdowns regardless of age, and you don't get the same kind of sympathetic looks from others when the child is 16. It's debilitating. And a look of surprise from others when these things happen might be enough to break your heart."

Through Age of Autism, the online newsletter she edits, and a book chronicling her personal journey with her children, "All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa" (due out in November), Stagliano hopes to provide support for other moms of autistic children.

If you know a mom with an autistic child and you'd like to help, Stagliano says these three simple gestures can go a long way:

Give Her Some Time
Autistic children are usually most comfortable in their own homes, so offer to go to her house and insist she leave and take some time for herself. "It's like triage," says Stagliano. "Even if she goes to Starbucks for an hour, a break will be a huge help."

Know What She's Dealing With
Take the time to read a book about autism, such as "The Autism Book" by Dr. Sears, so you'll have a better understanding of what she's going through when discussing her issues.

Food = Love
Stagliano says that the simple act of dropping off a dinner -- or the means to a dinner -- will mean the world to the mom of an autistic child (who has so much to juggle). "Some autistic kids are on gluten-free diets, so even dropping off a gift card to a natural-foods store for $20 shows you care and that you are thinking of her," she says.

next: Is It Possible to Talk to Your Kids Too Much?
67 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mary August 9, 2010, 1:31 PM

I know a mom of an autistic child and I know the child.

While I do believe there is a such thing as Autism, I think it’s becoming a catch-all diagnosis.

I watch this child with the mom, and the child is babied somewhat, the child only does what is expected and usually no more. The computer is used as a babysitter since the child is quiet when in front of it. When tantrums do come up, it’s a long, drawn out negotiation, 45 minutes of “I’ll give you this if you do that”.

When this same child spends an afternoon at my house, it’s a different story. There are no tantrums, no negotiations. I understand that I’m a stranger so maybe the waters are being tested. I’ll agree to that but at the same time, I’m not the type to take the bullshit either. I don’t put up with it from my kids, and not from someone else’s either. If it’s time to eat, you sit at the table and eat, not under it crying because the TV was turned off in the middle of your show. (as this child does at home)

Funny thing is, the tantrums never happen at my place.

marji August 9, 2010, 3:02 PM

Mary, you are a very ignorant person, at least when it comes to autism. And probably very judgmental in every other aspect of life. I am a mom to a 4 year old with autism.Re-enforcements are what in my day were called bribery, that is “I will give you if you do this”.Necessary tools to teach a child with autism. You need to read a book about autism and educate yourself, and I hope this mom knows enough to never let her child stay at your home again.You do not know the first thing to be able to deal with a child with special needs.It is quite different than a typical child and takes much more patience and understanding. I am a bio mom to a 30yr old, adoptive to a 15 yr old (adopted at13)and preadoptive mom to a 3month old we got at 2 days old, also special needs. They all need special and individual care and treatment for their personal need. People with your mentality are aggravating and annoying at the very least to moms like me, and dangerous at the most. I feel sorry for your lack of compassion and mean spiritedness! Shame on you!

Mary August 9, 2010, 3:31 PM

Marji-you can resort to name calling, that’s real mature.

This kid sits in a classroom because the law says she can. The teacher has to spend more than half of her time redirecting this child because no one is allowed to discipline in any way. The other kids are paying for this. This child is capable of so much more, but everyone is so afraid to push, the child has learned to manipulate, I’ve seen it and so have others.

There’s no reason for the mom not to leave her child with me. I’m not mean and her child loves to come over to play. We watch movies together, draw, take walks, you know, most things you would usually do with kids who are visiting your house.

I know there are kids in worse situations than this ones and others who are better. I think YOU are ignorant for assuming that I am speaking of all Autistic kids and also assuming that I know nothing about it. If you reread what I posted, I said it seems that it’s becoming a catch-all diagnosis. That means they are diagnosing kids with Autism when really they don’t have it. Just as doctors did with ADD and ADHD.

Now, go back to reading your books.

XXXX August 9, 2010, 4:11 PM

defective kids

Jenny August 9, 2010, 11:58 PM

I see both sides here, but of course you realize Mary, that children always behave better for other adults than their own parents. My son might be very quiet and compliant around you because he finds you off-putting and scary. He will most likely not feel safe enough to be his real self, but he’ll vent that at home. Still, you sound very arrogant and condescending, Mary, and the truth is, you have no idea what this life is, living it day in day out, 24/7. You should not assume you know better than that child’s parents, and keep your very simplistic opinions to yourself. Please stop judging this family with so little information, and have some compassion.

Tiffany August 10, 2010, 3:47 AM

Mary, you sound very ignorant as to what ASD actually is. Lots of kids “act better” around adults OTHER than their parents… NT and ASD kids alike. It seems to me like this article is talking to people like you, who THINK they know what having a child with ASD is. You don’t. You can sit there with your judgmental attitude and think that you know better than the parents, therapists, educators and psychologists, but you don’t. You don’t live our lives, and you definitely don’t even begin to have a grasp on what we go through on a daily basis. I am a SAHM to two kids, one on the autism spectrum, and one just plain hyperactive. Do I turn the TV or computer on far too much some days? Absolutely. But my house also needs to be livable and clean, and unless you’re suggesting that I lock my children in their rooms while I clean, that is not possible (unless we’re talking about me cleaning up one mess while they make an entirely new one).

This is an excellent article, and I hope that people who are outside the ASD world will read it and take its advice to heart.

Sue August 10, 2010, 4:06 AM

I would also suggest offering to spend the night and let the Mom sleep. My son did not ever sleep through the night and as a result of that, I am now unable to sleep well years later. Lack of good sleep is debilitating and crazy-making!

Jess August 10, 2010, 4:13 AM

Thanks for the great article and advice!

Holly August 10, 2010, 5:00 AM

My happiest days were when my work-at-home neighbor brought me over a roast beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato. My neighbor is a wonderful man who watched me day after day care for my two kids with autism.

Jamie RN August 10, 2010, 5:26 AM

Mary - I agree 100%. In my field I see it daily. Autism “spectrum” is the new ADD. 10 years ago every kids had ad/hd, now they are on the Autism spectrum when the majority of the time they don’t belong on it. Parents just want an excuse not to parent sometimes and it’s easier to get a diagnosis unfortunately than to parent. If you 3 year old is running around it’s not ad/hd - he’s just being three!! When your 4 year old is throwing tantrums it doesn’t mean he has aspergers, it means he’s most likely a little spoiled. And you kid isn’t as social as you were -well sometimes kids are just weird (it seems no one is allowed just to be the kid who was a little different anymore wihtout assigning a syndrome to them) A majority of these parents just want us to prescribe drugs and validate special school IEPs and it’s sad. And then these kids grow up expecting the world to bend over backwawrds forthem. Sigh

Kristi August 10, 2010, 5:56 AM

Mary and Jamie. It is your attitude which adds a huge stress to parents who are already under a ton of unbelievable stress. Funny how this article was written with the express purpose of showing others how to RELIEVE some stress and you are adding to it. Autism is NOT being spoilded. Autism is NOT a lack of parenting. As a matter of fact, I have to parent SO MUCH MORE and so much more strictly than most parents and this still does not guarentee great behaviors, public or private. Ya’ll are CLUELESS. Autism is a very distinct medical category that manifests itself in a HOST of ways, behavioral, cognitively, and biologically. You have no idea what parents are dealing with regarding digestive issues, insomnia issues (my child didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was NINE) and so much more. Also, when children with autism begin to make progress, they DO try VERY HARD to fit in, in others homes or in a store. It takes GREAT AND EXHAUSTING EFFORT for them to to this as they are trying to immitate others around them, process all the stimuli (oh I didn’t talk about auditory and other processing problems), and interpret everything being said. When they are at home they HAVE to have a place where they don’t have to work at it intensely 24/7. You guys are one of the reasons that people snap. No help, no compassion, no understanding, no education, and tons of judgment and lack of understanding. And to be an RN and not know more than you exhibited in your post is horrible at best. Thanks for nothing guys.

Alison August 10, 2010, 6:03 AM

There will always be people trying to take advantage of the system and choosing not to parent their kids. But, by point those people out in comments about an article that is trying to help parents of autistic children gives the impression that there are no truly autistic children.

My son changed like a lightbulb went off at 13 months old and I fought hard to figure out what was going on. He had tantrums 80% of the day and only slept a few minutes at at a time until he was 3 1/2. He was my third child and I new something was different. Yes, the doctor said to try different time out methods, ect. and I did that all the while thinking something must be wrong with me. But, my other two kids are very well behaved. We have seen many therapists and psychologists and each time I said I don’t care about a diagnosis and definitely didn’t want meds I just wanted to help him. It has taken hours and hours of intense behavioral therapy (mostly by me because we can’t afford the therapists anymore). There has been nothing easy about the life we have lived the past few years and my older children have suffered the most. I am heartbroken for my family and parents of special needs children are often looked at disapprovingly and critically. The combination of these feelings leaves many women on the verge of tears most of the time. A little compassion, and benefit of the doubt that the majority of moms are trying their best, would go a long way.

E.T.'s Mom August 10, 2010, 6:09 AM

I’m not going to attack Mary or Jamie RN because there is a little truth in what they are saying. My 5 yr old has diagnoses of autism, PDD and ataxic cerebral palsy. While not always the case, parents, including myself, do tend to baby our special needs kids. We don’t always mean to, but it’s an easy mistake to make. I was guilty of it early on, but then I realized that others were getting better behavior from my son than I could and that didn’t fly with me. I found out that he is capable of far more than I (or doctors!) was giving him credit for.
Personally, I refuse to use reinforcements because some of these kids DO learn to manipulate. My son was one of those. He is bright. He figured out that he could “manipulate the system”. He has come a long way from the silent, withdrawn, non-verbal child he was 4 years ago. Now I have to warn therapists to stand their ground with him.
Bottom line, each child with autism is different, though. Parents try to do what works with THEIR child. It may appear to others that that way is wrong, and perhaps, in some cases, it is, but these kids didn’t come with an instruction manual and the medical community sure as hell doesn’t help AT ALL with their gloom and doom,, no cure prognoses for these kids.
As for the article above, many parents do just need a break. We often have little or no support network. We can’t just ask the neighbor’s teen to babysit. Simple, mundane tasks like grocery shopping can be a literal nightmare. Treatments are often not covered by insurance so there is often no money for sitters, even if you could find one. The basic medical care most parents take for granted is non-existent for ASD kids. (My son had severe diarrhea for 3 years that docs insisted was “normal”! If it’s not normal for any other kid or animal, why the hell is it “normal” for an ASD kid?! How about the doctor actually doing his/her job and at least trying to find out why?)
This article is great in that it helps those on the “outside” to understand ways they could help a very stressed parent and they could even save a life.

Melanie August 10, 2010, 6:10 AM

“Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies” by Kenneth Bock, M.D. & Cameron Stauth

This is a great book and recommended by two DAN doctors. Dr. Bock says ADHD is often the mildest form of autism and treatment through the biomedical approach (as well as through behavioral approaches) can help tremendously.

Of course there are kids with discipline issues. There are also many more kids with serious gut/brain issues than in years past. Parents are not making this up or causing these problems. Living in a toxic world is causing spectrum disorders.

shelly August 10, 2010, 7:02 AM

Jamie RN,

I find it best to stay away from making broad assumptions. In our area the school district encourages parents to seek prescriptions and many, many doctors are more than willing to write those scripts. My husband and I have spent countless hours sorting through our child’s issues and have successfully addressed them WITHOUT medication. We’ve done is on our own without support from the schools and our child’s previous doctor. We’ve paid for out of pocket OT, auditory processing testing & training sessions, done a lot of work utilizing neuroplasticity and addressed allergies/food intolerances.

While there are those parents who don’t parent, you aren’t qualified to assume you know every situation. After all, from where I stand, your profession has played a huge role in the sickest generation of children we are now seeing. Why is it that the doctors in the USA write 4000% more scripts for ADD meds than in other countries? If a doctor doesn’t feel a medication is necessary, then he shouldn’t write the script.

Often, it is the school who doesn’t want a kid to be a kid. Often, you’ll find the teacher is the driving force in requesting meds. Once the school/teacher use their position of power there are many parents who go along with them. Remember, the parents couldn’t get the script, though, if a doctor didn’t write it.

Kim Spencer August 10, 2010, 7:23 AM

WOW, Mary and Jamie. What an eyeopening I’ve had this morning because of you two. I have a son with autism and have worked with 300-ish families dealing with autism at a pediatrician’s office. I have to say that I have NEVER come across a parent who was just looking for a diagnosis or an excuse to be a bad parent. Every parent I’ve come across has been genuinely concerned for their child…and the fact that normal parenting skills do not work on them. When my youngest, neurotypical daughter was 3, it was shocking to me how finally I realized I DID know how to parent…a typical child. I have to say that it is so incredibly rude of you to judge other parents, you have no idea what they’ve gone through. As I always say, to myself and my autism mom friends, though, I am SO GLAD you two don’t have a child with autism. Better they are with us.

Colleen August 10, 2010, 7:24 AM

Wonderful article, so very true. Thank you for making us feel less alone.

Daniel August 10, 2010, 8:09 AM

I have an autistic brother, and some of these comments are very troubling to me. The argument isn’t “are parents disciplining their autistic children enough”. The article is stressing the need for understanding and help to parents and caregivers of autistic children. My parents have changed considerably since my little brother came into this world. However, I don’t think the stress is from him. It is from a society that doesn’t accept his behavior and thinks that my parents are horrible at parenting. My little brother is rather high on the autism spectrum, but he has the biggest laugh in the world and loves to play and be loved. He is so darn smart too. I try to help my parents any time I can and give them alone time. You will never know what the life is like unless you immerse yourself into it. Have some compassion.

AutismDad August 10, 2010, 8:51 AM

There is much of value in this article, but the sexism is disheartening. It may come as a surprise to the author, but autistic children do have fathers also.

Focusing ONLY on mothers implies that fathers have no role to play and face no challenges. Men and women frequently have different ways of dealing with the stresses of raising an autistic child. Ignoring the fathers — as this author does — only increases these stresses for the dads. Worse yet, it promotes the viewpoint that caring for children (disabled or not) is woman’s work.

As the father of an autistic child, I face the same stresses and worries that my wife faces, and I do not need to have society acting like I am somehow unmanly by caring for my child. I’ll keep doing everything I can to build a future for my son, regardless of whether or not society recognizes my efforts. But it sure would help if more people recognized, and encouraged, the efforts of fathers.

Christina August 10, 2010, 9:33 AM

Mary and Jamie.. I do not have to much to say to you both because I was taught if I do not have some something nice to say then not say anything at all. Pretty much I have nothing nice to say to the two of you.

Jamie that is complete BS that a majority of parents with a kid on the AS is looking for prescription meds. I know many who are avoiding it. My son has Autism and I do not want him on meds. I have the opposite problem. Doctors are being pushy about putting him on meds.

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