My friend's child has autism: eight ways to really help

Lots of people out there say, "How can I help" when they hear of a child who has autism. Here are eight practical things they can do that will make a difference.

1. Get to grips. Understanding some basics about the condition will help you get a grip on what your friends and their child are facing, so do a little reading on the Internet or from your local library.

2. No more judgement. It's important to realise that the child may not be able to help behaviour like tantrums in supermarkets so ditch the judgement and give your friend a hug instead.

3. Be there to support. When a child is diagnosed with a disability, the family goes through a grieving period. However as life goes on, there will probably be more grieving periods to negotiate. Offer support and a safe place to cry.

4. Practical help, not words There are some notable people with autism who have risen to the top in their fields and that is a good thing but it doesn't help the parent of a struggling child to be continually reminded of them. It's best not to say things like, "but people with autism are really smart or unique or special." Much better is to grab the vacuum cleaner and give your friends lounge room a good going over. She probably hasn't had the energy to do it herself for weeks.

5. Find some funds. Therapy costs are expensive. Your friend may appreciate a little bit of fundraising, but ask first.

6. Babysitting. Some children with autism have a lot of trouble going to church, especially if the services are long or loud. If your friend is feeling depressed about her situation she may not want to go either. A sensitive conversation will ask how she feels and look for practical solutions, including babysitting, so that everyone's needs can be met.

7. Get to know them. Find a way to connect with your friend's child and do some babysitting so that the parents get a break. If the child is old enough, invite them to your own children's birthday parties. Heaven knows they don't get many other invites!

8. Pray, pray, pray. Pray daily for your friends and their child. They need it.