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.