What your co-workers with autistic children want you to know

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Autism isn’t one size fits all

April is Autism Awareness Month in the United States and according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 44 children will be diagnosed with autism in the U.S. Supporting our Elasticians that have children with special needs starts with understanding, empathy, and support.

At Elastic we believe in flexibility. In fact, it’s part of our Source Code. We believe in our employees having the flexibility to work and care for their responsibilities at home. 

For those with a child with autism, those responsibilities outside of work might look a lot different (and more demanding) than yours. Here are a few things to know in order to better understand and support your co-workers who are raising an autistic child.

Things are constantly changing

While those on the autism spectrum thrive on routine, consistency, and predictability, it’s important to understand that things are constantly changing for them and their families. What worked last year doesn’t work this year. There are new doctors to see, therapies to try, or activities to participate in and they’re not always after work hours. Doctor’s appointments happen during the day, a therapy group might meet at 2pm, or something might come up unexpectedly. 

There are a lot of decisions that need to be made

Due to the increased number of doctors and therapists, there are more decisions to be made about care. And while doctors and therapists can help, parents of the autisic child need to make these decisions by themselves, which can be mentally and emotionally draining. That means that sometimes a work decision may be delegated, because one more decision just can’t be made. 

Everyone has their own opinions

Opinions are great, but everyone has them and shares them. The parents of an autistic child hears solicited and unsolicited opinions on their child and their care more often than you realize. Whether it’s doctors or therapists offering insights, other parents of children with special needs sharing stories, or someone with no experience on the subject chiming in, they hear it all. The best thing you can do is let the parents come to their own conclusions. 

What works for one child may not work for another

Autism isn’t one size fits all. One child might have certain symptoms that were alleviated by doing one thing and another child might find no relief in that. It’s a trial and error system that the parents have to go through in order to determine what works for their child. And symptoms and needs change all of the time, so this process happens regularly. This means that one co-worker’s experience with autism may be different than another’s, and because of that, their challenges and needs will be different, too. 

The future is unknown

As with anything, the future is unknown. It can be triggering for a parent of an autisic child to be asked, “What are you going to do in the future?” or “What are you going to do when they get older?”. 

It can be isolating 

Parenting an autisic child can be lonely and overwhelming. Support groups and similar things may help, but ultimately every child is different and their needs vary drastically. So, many times, parents are having to make decisions in a vacuum. You might not be able to understand or relate, and that’s OK. 

It’s important to remember that though you may not be living their experience,  there are things you CAN do to support these parents. 

  • Ask how you can help: if a co-worker seems to be going through a difficult time, ask specifically how you can help. Something as simple as, “Can I move this deadline for you?” or “Do you want me to take on the presentation this time?” may make a huge difference in their day. 

  • Listen (without giving advice): when your co-worker confides in you, listen with an open mind, and know that you don’t have to solve their problems. Validating them goes a long way in breaking down the isolation some parents of special needs children feel.

  •  Advocate for and support them: whether it’s getting involved with a cause, learning more about what they are going through, or helping them navigate challenges, your co-worker will likely appreciate knowing you have their back. 

Being understanding, flexible, and supportive can go a long way in making them able to both work and care for their child.

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