April is a packed month for me. Poetry, Shakespeare lesson plans, it's my birth month, conferences, vending, and several speaking engagements and workshops always happen in April. April is also Autism Awareness month in many countries, too. If you've read this blog, you know that I wrote a children's book about Autism with my oldest daughter, Juwayriyah, about her sister and my middle child, Hind. Hind's Hand's - A Story About Autism was a way for us to explain to our community and other communities around the world that Hind and other people like her on spectrum have different abilities, needs, and joys, too!
Hind's Hands - A Story About Autism continues to makes rounds around the world, libraries, and homes of children who need their stories to be heard. My goal, for the Muslim community especially, was for Hind's Hands - A Story About Autism, to be a conversation starter that takes on a life of its own about the needs of Autists. I also wanted Muslims to start talking openly about the needs of families caring for children and adults on the spectrum year round.
Right around the end of March many friends and family will email me about Hind's Hands. They will want to know where to purchase the book or if I am available for read-alouds and a very select few will ask about Hind's health. I am always humbled and grateful when my readers can connect with any of my literature. Without a doubt, Hind's Hands - A Story About Autism was one of the most important and influential books, I have worked on to date. The story line was developed by my daughter, Juwayriyah, and the illustrations were crafted by the super-talented sister Emma Apple - who is also a Mama of Autists. It was a project that was dear to us and necessary for all three of us to work on at the exact time that Allah willed all of us together.
However, Hind's Hands - A Story About Autism was never meant to be a show pony that creeps out of the stables each spring to trot. Autism Awareness IS everyday for us. We are never waiting for fundraisers in the parks,cookie sales, designated months, or colored ribbons to be attached to street lights and school bulletin boards to deal with Autism! We don't have that luxury. Every day is Autism Awareness for mothers like me and Emma and sisters like my daughter Juwayriyah and millions of other families affected by Autism around the world. I have to advocate for my daughter every single day - in the schools, in the masajid, in the hospitals. There is never a day I get to be off!
Still, I know that some times friends and family members may not know how to be supportive. It isn't always easy to find the right words to say to parents dealing with Autism. But there are many ways to be supportive of your friends and family members besides wearing a blue ribbon or pin or wishing them a Happy Autism Awareness Month (read: don't every say that)!
Instead you could:
1. Go see them! Go sit with you friend for a half an hour (bring coffee, if you can) and just listen to them.
2. Offer to watch their child for an afternoon once in the blue moon so they can go to jumu'ah, grocery shopping, go for a walk or to the barber/beauty shop alone (it is extremely difficult to find a babysitter for an Autist that the Autist likes and the parent(s) feels safe enough to leave alone with)
3. Call your friends who are parenting Autists once in a while just give the salams or say Hi (you wouldn't believe how many "friends" and family members will forget about you or distance themselves from you because you have non-neurotypical child/adult to care for)
4. Drop off a meal! (Parenting autisitc children or adults is challenging, some times it is extremely difficult especially if the child is globally delayed and/or non-verbal! It is tiring caring for someone else 100% of your time and still having to care for yourself, work, a household, etc.)
5. Write them a letter/email or send a Thinking About You card. (I get that everyone may not feel comfortable around autistic children/adults - especially, if you don't make time to do it regularly. It doesn't mean that you don't still have a love and concern for your friends and family members. I love to read and I am always grateful to get a short email or note from a friend. Thinking about you cards are great to add onto --- just don't write Happy Autism Awareness Month on it!