Ann Palmer has spent over 20 years in the field of autism as the Parent Support Coordinator for Division TEACCH and Director of Advocacy and Chapter Support for the Autism Society of North Carolina. She draws on her extensive experience to offer practical tips on how to support an autistic child and his or her family (the family with autism).
Ann’s experience with autism has also been personal. Her adult son, Eric, is autistic, but has gone “from being an out-of-control, routine-obsessed three-year-old, to being a calm, flexible college graduate who lives in his own apartment and works a full-time job he enjoys.” (p18)
Ann offers friends and relatives practical advice on how to be sensitive to the parents’ needs as they struggle to come to terms with the diagnoses, and what are the most supportive actions friends and relatives can take.
She also brings parents and siblings (the family with autism) into the equation by showing them how to reach out to the extended family for help and how to include friends in their vital support network.
Ann offers insight into the family’s needs as the child grows into his teenage years and adulthood.
Zoom in on Chapter Four: Extended Family and Friends where Ann explains that one of the major obstacles to receiving support is parents’ avoidance to discuss the child’s needs.
There are many reasons why parents may not feel comfortable opening up to others. Disclosing the diagnosis may cause to face up to the difficult reality of their situation. They may also fear being misunderstood, judged or pitied and/or be too emotional to talk about it altogether. (p108)
Quoting parents, Ann illustrates what some of them go through: “I isolated myself the first week and stayed at home and cried and avoided the people who meant the most to me. They wanted to help me but if I saw them or spoke to them it was too hard to keep up the protective wall I had built up around myself.” (Morell and Palmer, 2006, pp16-17)
Another grandparent says: “Early on we bumped heads. I was trying to give advice, articles I had read, information on treatments people have told me about. Now I try to be supportive of their ideas (for their child). You will not be there to see those ideas through on a day-to-day basis. You are not walking in their shoes.” (O’Machel 2011, p2)
The book is comprehensive and cleverly covers the topic from all angles. If you are pressed for time, note to zero in on Chapter Seven: Top Ten Tips for Family Members and Friends for it summarises all the tips spelled out in the book!
A Friend’s and Relative’s Guide to Supporting the Family with Autism –How Can I Help? by Ann Palmer, is available at Singapore’s Public Libraries.
About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.