Happy Good Neighbor’s Day – The importance of being a good neighbor to someone on the #autism spectrum

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“It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a child with autism to raise the consciousness of the village,” Coach Elaine Hall

By Debra Muzikar

Today September 28 is Good Neighbor’s Day. This year in California we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Lanterman Act. The underlying tenant of the Lanterman Act is people with developmental disabilities are entitled to be a meaningful part of the community they reside in. They are entitled to reside in neighborhoods. They are entitled to attend the same schools, have opportunities to participate in recreational activities, and have employment opportunities within those communities.

Before the Lanterman Act (and even after the Lanterman Act to this day) people with developmental disabilities were (are) warehoused in institutions called Developmental Centers. The quality of life in these institutions is not good, and often inhumane. The Lanterman Act gave parents supports to keep their children at home in their natural community with their family. Communities are only as good as the intentions of the people who reside within them. Legislation can’t force people to be good neighbors.

In honor of Good Neighbor Day, lets reflect on what makes a good neighbor to someone with autism or other developmental disability.

These tips may help you to be a better neighbor.

Be mindful. Often we are so involved with our own activities we are not aware of other’s situations. A good neighbor will be aware and helpful. For example, if you know your neighbor has a child who wanders, a good neighbor will watch for that child and alert the parents when seeing the child unaccompanied.

Educate yourself. Its very easy to judge people on the autism spectrum because they behave in different ways than what is “typical.” Educating yourself will help you understand why they behave differently. Recently we went out to lunch with a friend of my husbands from high school. He knew Kevin, my adult son on the spectrum, was going to attend that lunch. Kurt’s friend took the time to read some articles about autism before the lunch. He told me he wanted to understand Kevin better. I call that being a good friend.

Be compassionate. Parents of children with disabilities navigate a complex system. Meetings with school districts and governmental agencies can be exhausting. Cooking a meal for a family when they are having a tough day is a great gesture and will go a long way. Autistic adults who reside in your community may feel isolated. Don’t be afraid to talk to your autistic neighbor.

Ask questions.
If you don’t understand why a person is behaving a certain way, ask them (or their parents).

Include people in meaningful ways. Invite people of diversity including people on the autism spectrum to your child’s birthday. Not only do autistic children often feel excluded, so do their parents. Including a child who is not neurotypical maybe will make that child feel included (or less excluded) and will help your child cultivate friendships with people who aren’t exactly like themselves.

Being a good neighbor works both ways. Families who have children with developmental disabilities can teach their child about community and being a good neighbor in the following ways:

Be a good role model for your child. Do something kind for your neighbor. Make them cookies or mow their lawn.

Talk to your child about what being a good neighbor means.
Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Encourage your child to volunteer.
Volunteering back to the community is how we create vibrant neighborhoods.

Being a good neighbor is about taking another’s perspective. The Golden Rule – do unto others is part of being a good neighbor.

Happy Good Neighbor’s Day!

Other blogs you may like: Why I volunteer

Come to Life by Joining Clubs

10 Ways You Can Help Autistic Adults and Children

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