Kate O'Donnell

Kate O'Donnell

Wordsmith, Teacher & Advocate

Families with Children on the Autism Spectrum are a part of our community.

If you are lucky enough to have a friend or family member with Autism, you may find yourself wondering how you can best help.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, Ruth L. Fischbach PhD found a significant amount of isolation and even outright rejection of children and their families. More than 65 percent of the children were sometimes or often avoided or left out of activities.

Forty percent of the parents said they isolated themselves from friends and family because of their child’s autistic behaviours. And 32 percent said other people excluded them from social events and activities.

Almost 80 percent of the parents said stigma had been extremely, very or somewhat difficult in their lives.From research and extensive experience, we take the guesswork out and give you the most practical tips for helping families with Autism. You are welcome!

Tip #1 for loved ones – If you don’t know what to say- say it! 

Tell your person “I find it really hard to know what the right thing is to say and I want to support you the best way I can. Could you give me an idea of how I can help? Or what I can say that will help you in all of this?” Choosing not to say anything is worse and alienating. Be honest and be gentle.

Tip #2 Offer to attend workshops, read books or go to things with them to help.

When you understand Autism, it can be an amazing and rewarding experience. When we are together, Planet Spectrum can be really inspiring. When we feel supported and learn together, it takes away the feeling of isolation. By attending workshops, you can learn helpful insights and tools to help your friend or family. Committing to understanding is your ticket to being inclusive and supportive. Nothing says acceptance more than others willing to actively learn.


Explain to your support people that Autism is a part of your life now and therefore, it has become part of theirs. Quite often loved ones are at a loss as to how to help, what to say, what to do, and how to support you. Start keeping them informed, start that conversation with something like ‘we are trying to find a way through this new information, and it’s making us feel like____________. I appreciate you taking the time to listen.’ 

Keeping your support people informed and in the loop assists everyone.

Some folks in your life might already do this. Some won’t be, simply because they might not know HOW TO. But the fact is you are standing on Planet Spectrum, so chances are you will come across the most useful and educational point first- so SHARE THEM! If it’s useful and helpful for you and anyone that looks after your child, it’s worth sharing.

Start looking locally for workshops, sessions and insights you can attend about Autism. There are conferences and events in most states, webinars online etc. You need to start educating yourself by networking with others who are sharing Planet Spectrum with you. This book is a great start. I wasn’t a big ‘joiner’, and you might not be either, and that’s ok, but education is everything with Planet Spectrum, and you will collect a treasure trove of useful ideas and tips doing it.

Source a support group. Facebook was an excellent resource for me finding other parents to talk to, laugh with and feel with.

Connecting with other people in similar situations from the comfort of your own home and space can be really positive if used in a positive way. Useful tips, common ground and empathy can often be a great comfort and reduce the feelings of isolation. Make sure it’s a positive environment; you don’t want to be hanging out in-person or online with negative people. Negativity is like the flu and can be very contagious. At the beginning of this journey, you can be quite vulnerable, so steer clear of negative environments.

On a bigger scale, I think it’s really important for people to talk to each other about Autism. Talking about it raises awareness, it informs, it educates others that Autism is just one part of a person. Because right now for you it might feel like the biggest defining moment of your and your child’s life, when in fact it’s only a part of your child. Talking about Autism opens up a dialogue of what others can do to best support.

TIP #3 Try and create ways the family and friendship groups can accommodate the needs of this little person and their mum or dad in social situations where you all get together. 

There needs to be room for everyone, and this is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Think about the sensory environment- how many people, quiet areas, structured events. Simply asking a family or parent HOW you can make transitions easier, lessen triggers or accommodate. Consider what time if you are hosting an event, the food options and what you may need to include. For example, not lighting fragrant candles inside, cooking meat or strong smelling food outside, putting dogs/animals away, not having loud music.

TIP #4 – Get a journal, a workbook, open a computer Word document and save it in a FILE. 

Every time you come across something useful, educational and helpful, put it in there. Save it under the topic it relates to. Copy and Paste will become your best friend. If you’ve found a useful website copy and paste the link autism into a file so you can look it up later. I did this A LOT, and every time I needed info, it was at my fingertips. 


Tip #5- Listen without judgement.

Navigating Autism can be tricky. There is so much to learn, understand and as wonderful as it is- there are also many challenges. Holding the space for a parent to process, talk about and bounce ideas without judgment is so important, and one of the most supportive gestures you can gift. (wine and chocolate optional, although bonus points for each!)

So you made it to this point of the article? Congratulations! We applaud you on your effort to be inclusive and supportive. Through awareness, education, understanding and kindness, you are helping change the space for Autism. You are helping reduce the stigma, isolation, and being a really decent human! 

Want to Ponder Autism more with us?

Stay tuned for our next article. Ponderings has managed to affiliate with Planet Spectrum and are pleased to offer you this link to the free resource The Flight Manual. 


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