Building an Autism Support Network for Your Loved One
Having a support network in place plays an important role in improving and maintaining wellbeing for people of all ages. Even the most fiercely independent or introverted of us still has an innate need for social support. This is something that is basically hardwired into our DNA, likely from earlier times when humans needed to band together for survival. While we may not need to form tribes for protection against predators and other threats in the wild anymore, this trait will probably always remain.
Our social nature is part of the reason we have the common saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This is something that is consistently proven to be true, especially because many puzzle pieces come together to form a whole picture.
Along with the concept of raising a kid, socialness is important for a child’s health. Sure, children rely on adults for basic needs like food, water, and shelter, but it goes deeper than that. Children have social needs that can impact—positively or negatively—emotional and mental health and wellbeing. These needs can vary in degree, but they are present for virtually any child, including those who are autistic.
As we look at autism support networks and systems, it can help to break them into different social areas.
The Family Unit as a Support System
Families of origin are often, but obviously not always, the first kind of social support networks humans receive. In the case of support systems for autism, this can be a particularly valuable one. While providing basic needs (food, shelter) is a form of support given to any child born into a loving, stable home, autistic children can benefit even more from the home environment.
As we noted in our post, How to Support Autistic Loved Ones at Home, there are possible physical supports that might benefit an autistic son or daughter at home. These can include visual aids and reminders, sensory activities, and proper lighting. More than that, though, the social support from home life can really benefit an autistic youth by having what is likely the deepest understanding of the child as an individual.
In the same way that all neurodivergent people are different and have their own preferences and ways of doing things, so too is the case with autistic people. And, as we talk about support networks, family members can have the greatest insight into what their sibling or child needs for structure, downtime, sensory experiences, and communication.
Support Systems in School
For autistic children who are enrolled in school, they have opportunities to have support networks there. Within this context, special and general education teachers, social workers, administrators, and even parents call all be part of a support system for autistic students.
If you have an autistic child who is taking classes, it is highly recommended that they have an IEP (individualized education plan). These plans provide structure and guidance so that students receive what they need to be in the best possible position for success. The individualized element is quite important because, as was noted, not all autistic students have the same needs. By ensuring that your child has an IEP in place, you should be able to know that their unique nature is being taken into consideration.
With this kind of tool, autistic students should have (and be able to receive) everything they need to thrive in the educational environment.
Community-Based Support Networks
Another way to build a support network for your autistic son or daughter is to research activities and programs they may be interested in. While a school-based support network can play its role in your child’s wellbeing, this branching out can be quite beneficial for developmental purposes. After all, it is quite helpful to be able to interact with the world around us as humans age into adulthood. And building networks within the community can create safe, positive environments where your child can thrive while surrounded by people who understand them and what they need.
Parents, you can team up with other parents who understand the struggles and access to resources. All it takes is spending some time with your child on the spectrum and paying attention to what they take interest in and how they interact with it. Those small observations can lead you to finding activities and resources that align with your observations. Despite the network in the school setting, you will be establishing a network within the community.
In addition to finding community-based options for your child, you may find support groups to be helpful for you and other family members. Many individuals find these to be beneficial resources where they are surrounded by other families who experience the same kinds of situations they do. This can really ease any sense of isolation, loneliness, and frustration you may be feeling.
Beyond that, you will find that participants often help each other out by sharing information on medical or educational services, programs, and other resources available in the community, county, or state. And you can get advice from others who may have experienced similar situations or problems and share your own coping techniques that worked for you (https://koriathome.com, 2022). While it might be easier to see the benefits of getting advice from others, being able to share and know that you are helping others is a wonderful feeling.
As an assessment specialist, support groups are one of the resources I always suggest to families because most feel alone in the situation. Exposing them to others who share similar experiences will help alleviate those feelings and they can learn more effective ways to assist their child.
Support Here at Waypoints
Waypoints provides follow-ups to help parents understand and to link to other resources that help build a positive support network. With an open-door policy, families can reach out to us anytime they have a concern or just need to vent about a situation. At Waypoints, we do our best to find a solution and link families to tools that can help reduce negative feelings and promote positive change and support.
How to Build a Support Network as a Special Needs Parent. 2022. https://koriathome.com/special-needs-parents-need-support/.
In a previous blog post, Find the Best Autism Services in Michigan for Your Family, I reviewed many of the
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