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Autism, Special Needs, And The
Benefit Of A Circle Of Friends - Pt 1

Jean Shaw© - All Rights reserved


Everyone knows being a parent isn't easy.

In an ideal world you have your children and hopefully raise them so they grow into responsible young adults who make their own way in the world. Of course there are stages, which are difficult, but usually everyone comes out okay in the end, and although you always worry you have the hope your children will eventually be able to look after themselves

However, for parents of children with special needs it's a whole different ball game. It's a huge responsibility, which never gets easier and can consume families.

My son is autistic. I'm convinced he wasn't born that way. The first year of his life was wonderful and we were a "normal" family if there is such a thing.
However, things began to get very difficult when he developed autism and life changed for everyone. Things, which we had, until that point, just taken for granted, now became major issues. There was no such thing as just "nipping into a shop", or spontaneously going for a walk, dropping in on a friend or going for a meal. Everything had to be meticulously planned and organised in advance with a backup plan incase things went wrong, which they invariably did.

As a result we tended to stop going out as a family. Quite frankly it was just easier to stay at home. On the very rare occasions we were invited out I would make excuses not to go. This was partly due to the fear of what might happen, but also because I felt I would have nothing to contribute to any conversation. My whole life seemed to be consumed with autism and its consequences.

The problem also, was autism was consuming everyone's lives and my other son suffered terribly. Not only did he have to live with the strange unpredictable behaviour of his younger brother on a daily basis, but also his opportunities to join in with his peer activities were curtailed. As much as he hates to admit it, I know his brother at times embarrassed him, and children can be very cruel. His childhood was not as happy as it should have been.

As I said having children isn't easy and if you are any sort of parent at all, does require changes to your lifestyle, and usually develops different friendships. This is natural and many new relationships are formed at the school gates, or at after school activities where you get to meet other parents.

However, that's not always the case for the parents of children with special needs, and often instead of their children providing them with a larger circle of friends; it results in quite the opposite. Depending on the disability, and the location of the school, many children will have transport provided. As such their parents may never have the opportunity of meeting other people in the same position.

Also, again depending on the disability, there may well be no activity outside of school, which the child can attend, and consequently no opportunity to meet new people. If you couple that with the fact most parents of children with special needs often lose contact with their original "friends", it can be a very lonely and isolated existence.


My son was an extremely difficult child to manage for many years. He's changed and is really calm now but I still carry the mental scars of all the nightmare outings when I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. So too does my other son. We never really went anywhere much, and my eldest son didn't do much on his own or with anyone else. It was just too difficult to organise anything.

If we went out at all it was to "safe" places where I felt reasonably comfortable and which weren't too far from home incase my autistic son gave me a hard time. Also, I'm geographically challenged with a bad sense of direction so having to really concentrate on driving and my unpredictable son was a bit daunting to say the least. We'd go out at quiet times when there weren't too many people around, or the weather was bad. I can hardly describe them as "Fun" times.

However, as my son got older, became more able, and easier to manage, it became clear he wanted to do a greater variety of things, and go out in daylight hours not in the middle of the night. (Only joking - I was never that bad although we have been known to go food shopping in the early hours of the morning). He wanted, and needed to participate in the type of activities his peers enjoyed.

However, with a 34-year age gap, I'm probably not the best person to give him the "fun" time he's missed out on all these years. That's why his Circle of Friends is so fantastic.

For those of you who don't know, a Circle of Friends are a group of volunteers who are willing and able to spend a few hours each month (on a regular basis) with the person with special needs, and provide opportunities for that person to have fun doing the things he or she likes to do. That was a bit of a mouthful but it just means the "special" person has people to spend time with outside of his, or her immediate family - something many people with disabilities don't have.

If you have a child with special needs I recommend you look into the possibility of setting one up yourself. It isn't difficult and can transform lives, or maybe you'd like to be in a Circle and help someone else.

Everyone needs friends.

For More Information on Circles