by Cari Ansbro
Are you blessed with lots of supportive family and friends? You know. People who rally around you when life gets rough. Holding you up when your own strength fails.
Loved ones who make sure you and your special someone never worry about no one showing up at a birthday party, or you leaving a family gathering early because the overwhelming disapproval drove you to tears. If so, please remember how fortunate you are.
If you're not one of the lucky ones with tons of support, you're in good company. Not that that's much comfort.
Chances are you know the pain of watching your family and friends stare in frustration, puzzlement, and derision because they simply can't understand how you can love such an alien person. As if your loved one just beamed down from the mothership right in front of them.
Of course, it's easy to dismiss what you don't understand when you also don't bother to understand. And it can be hard to forgive the people who should love your loved one for not doing so.
Perhaps you're one of the many parents of special needs children who feel abandoned by family and friends. The sense of betrayal and isolation can be overwhelming.
Suddenly the people you look to for support in times of trouble are at a loss for how to respond to your situation. Instead of stepping up to help, they fail you by stepping back. People don't know what to say or do. They feel helpless, awkward, or frustrated that they can't "fix it."
It becomes more about them and their feelings than being there when it counts. Many respond by separating themselves from what they perceive as the cause of their discomfort, and in the process cut you off when you need support the most.
My own family's experience has varied from astonishing unconditional acceptance and love to heartbreaking disappointment and rejection. In spite of many attempts at bridge building over the years, I can't claim universal success. Still, I endorse doing what you can to salvage these relationships and help your family and friends be valued and contributing members of your loved one's circle.
However, not everyone is capable of this level of acceptance, and you shouldn't blame yourself when people inevitably fall away.
You may need to seek support and acceptance elsewhere. Finding people who know the kind of challenges you face, understand the feelings you experience, and can empathize with you makes an enormous difference in the quality of your life.
A good place to start is your local Autism Society. But if there isn't one near you, there are other special needs support groups that are often open to those affected by autism.
Just knowing you're not the only one going through this can mean a lot. So if the people in your life are failing you, keep looking until you find people who will be there when you need someone. Because we all do.
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