• Kirstyn Oliver

Strength comes from love.

This is what I’ve seen in many parents of children with autism: They are strong.

Parents of children with autism are the strongest people I know. Because, apart from going through their own personal load, they take on board that of others. They are the strong ones that never give up, even on a bad day when they believe everything is going downhill, they still have that fight (called love) inside of them that will keep them going. They look at everything, as if from the mountain top, put everything back into perspective and continue the journey, even if they are still hurting a lot.

If someone they know, a friend or relative, needs help, they know how much that support is valued, so they go and give another part of themselves to the other person. Because they very well know that everyone faces different challenges and struggles. Each and every person has their own strengths and tolerance, as they also have their weaknesses and intolerances too. We are all different and manage situations, challenges and issues differently.

It´s easy to say to others that everything is “fine”, when actually it´s not. But, is this response because it´s too complicated to explain the ins and outs of the challenges they face? Especially when people only tend to want a quick explanation of the situation, rather than investing time into listening to the whole story.

As a community of faith, people build up relationships, and have a lot of beliefs and values in common. The value of love and service become a big part of community, therefore you´d think that the church and other communities of faith should have it sussed out by now. However, when it comes to parenting a child, and parenting a child with additional needs, it becomes blurred between the lines. Not everyone knows or understands how it works, or what it is, or how it can affect a child and the family´s day-to-day life.

I believe that the first thing someone could do, in a supportive way, is to listen. Listen to the parents, be humble about not knowing everything and be open to learn something new. Don´t give advice, don´t offer suggestions, don´t assume things, if first you haven´t listened. Listening is a major factor in building a relationship. How will you get to know the other person, or how will you know in which way to support them, if you haven´t heard, seen or understood their needs (physical, emotional and/or spiritual needs).

Therefore, when a person comes to your church for the first time, don´t assume your church has it all under control and you can meet that person´s needs. Instead, be ready to listen, be ready to be present, be ready to be a friend, be ready to be a positive support. As you build up this relationship, you will know, understand and be able to give the best support that person deserves to receive, rather than giving them another load off your back, with more stress, more anxiety, more frustration, more loneliness, and more baggage for them to carry.

So, in place of offering support when you don´t understand, first take time to listen and understand, to then offer your support, it will be much more beneficial and a gain both ways. Strength comes from love. So, give ‘your neighbour’ / that parent of a child with additional needs, more strength, by sharing your love.

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