5 ways for autism parents to combat loneliness

A few days before the birth of my first child, Matthew,I was browsing at the book store looking so huge that I made my fellow shoppers nervous.

“You must be so excited.” commented a nice grandmotherly type.

“You’ll learn that one of the best things about being a mother is the wonderful new friends that you’ll make!”

Several months later, I took my blond baby boy to his first Gymboree session, hoping that the wise woman at the bookstore was right. But while my prospective friends and their babies huddled and exchanged phone numbers, Matthew crawled away to a corner, preferring to play with the wheels on a rolling board, and nothing else. It was the first time I felt truly isolated as a mother but it would not be the last.

Dreamy Matthew, age one

Parenting a child with autism or other developmental disabilities can be lonely. When our children aren’t connecting, we aren’t either.

So what’s the solution? Here are some suggestions based on my experience–some obvious, others not so obvious:

1) Find autism advocacy and parent groups. Volunteer for Special Olympics and learn how your child can get involved. Special Olympics is also a great place for your typically developing children to volunteer and find support.

2) Join a gym, make a habit of going and take a variety of classes. The exercise part (endorphins and all) will keep you sane and you’ll meet a lot of nice people. Most places have childcare and with any luck, you’ll find a helper at the gym that is so great with your child that you can hire them to babysit for you so that you can…

3) Take a class. I took writing classes and joined writing groups because I like to write. What do you like to do? What have you always wanted to do? Learn about it.. Join a group and exchange ideas about it. Do something that has nothing to do with autism.

4) Get a dog. You meet great people at dog parks, at obedience training and on walks. Dogs are sweet and loving and they worry about you when no one else does.

5) Get to know your neighbors. They have noticed that you have your hands full but are curious about you and would like to get to know you. Invite them over and encourage them to ask questions about your child. Neighbors make the best friends.

If you are still stumped and lonely after reading this, let me know. I will do my very best to help you.

About the author

Laura Shumaker is a nationally recognized writer, autism and disabilities advocate. Her essays have appeared in many places, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR, and in a popular autism and disabilities blog for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s the mother of three terrific sons, and her oldest son, Matthew, is the subject of her book A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism.


  1. ks says

    I can relate so much to the comment “Matthew crawled away to a corner, preferring to play with the wheels on a rolling board, and nothing else”. More than once I’ve cried at classroom parties. ugh

    I teeter between regular classes/mainstreaming & involving my child in special olympics. Special Olympics doesnt seem appropriate for my high functioning autistic child.

    Personally, I’m very lonely parenting. I’m a single mom with a dad that is not involved and it’s very tough. The ideas to take care of ourselves are good because its hard a lot of days to remain positive.


  2. says


    What a great resource for autism parents. I remember that Gymboree scene above from your memoir and have always greatly admired your writing.



  3. Mary McK says

    I remember trying to take my son to the local Y. He screamed for the whole hour. That was the beginning of when we knew something was wrong.

  4. Jodi Bakken says

    Thanks for the great tips! They are good reminders that sometimes we need to reach out to connect with others. May I add one more? If you like to read, join a book club!

  5. pissed off mom says

    you are an idiot that has no clue
    who the f is going to babysit except a profiteering whore who will make you go broke
    a dog get real I am cleaning up poop and piss for my autistic kid who should of been potty trained long ago
    so you go clean the dog crap
    you are totally out of touch with the reality of autism

  6. Bill says

    Thanks for your help and comments. Any parent with an autistic child that will take the time to help others is great. To the pissed off mom – hey I know that it is tough – we are going through all of the difficulties and blessings of caring for an autistic child. You are in our prayers. Neighbors can be great friends but I do find most neighbors nice but not wanting to be involved. I actually help the neighbors more than they help us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *