How to Be a Special Auntie to Special Needs Kids
Written By Savvy Auntie Staff Writers
Special Guest Writer: Kim Stagliano is a nationally recognized autism advocate and speaker, and author of All I Can Handle I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism. Although autism typically affects boys, Stagliano is in the unique position of having three daughters with full-blown autism, which has made her and her family the focus of national media attention. She is managing editor of www.ageofautism.com, and writes for The Huffington Post, MSNBC TodayMoms, and The Autism File magazine. A former sales and marketing executive, Stagliano lives in Connecticut with her family.
I’m Kim Stagliano, and I’m proud to say I was an auntie (pronounced ‘awnty’ in the Massachusetts way) before I became a mom. My sister, Michele, and I married our husbands twenty years ago this Fall – just two weeks apart! I might have tied the knot first, but Shelly had my nephew Colin before I even thought of starting a family. I remember the first time I held him, “I’m an aunt!” I thought, swelling with pride and love.
Ah, children. My husband and I are parents to three gorgeous girls – Mia is 16, Gianna is 15 and Bella is 11. And they have full blown autism. All three. My sister has risen to the challenge of “aunting” special needs kids. Chances are that many of you have a niece or nephew who needs extra patience and TLC. So what can you do to be the best aunt and sister or sister-in-law possible?
1. Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask Mom about the diagnosis, whether it’s Down Syndrome, autism or anything else. The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll become with the child. My nephew once asked me if autism was contagious. I admired him for being brave enough to ask. Do the same.
2. Stay in touch: Isolation happens pretty quickly when you have a child with issues. Call Mom every so often. Send her a text or a Tweet to let her know that you’re aware of what she’s going through and are supportive.
3. Offer to help: This sounds daunting! It’s not. Pick up the phone and say, “I’m coming over at 10am to watch John/Jane and you’re going out for an hour. When you arrive, hand her a $10 gift card to the local coffee shop or if you can afford it, a gift certificate for a manicure or pedicure and walk her to her car. You can keep the child alive for an hour, right? Of course you can. And an hour to Mom will feel like a trip to Paris.
4. Read up on the diagnosis: Learn a bit about what’s going on with your niece or nephew. That shows real love and commitment and will help you be a better aunt to the child.
5. Include the child: You’d be shocked at how often special needs kids are excluded from events because of fear of what a special needs child might “do.” We have a family wedding coming up on my husband’s side, and my girls were not invited, even though their cousins are in the wedding. At least ask Mom and Dad if the child can manage the event. I promise you, we’ll bend over backwards to allow the child to participate while making sure the event goes smoothly.
Despite a diagnosis, remember that your niece or nephew is family first. They might have medical or behavioral issues that scare you or even frustrate you beyond belief. Know what? Mom feels the same way! Treat them like family and you can’t go wrong.
Published: October 4, 2011