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How Autism Spectrum Disorders can Affect Your Family

Autism spectrum disorders not only challenge the child diagnosed, but also every family member involved. Parents of the diagnosed child have to overcome enormous amounts of stress, emotional ups and downs, and other hardships that come with taking care of a child with autism. Stress levels can rise and stay consistent in a family with a child with autism due to the constant juggling of scheduling therapies, in-home treatments, family matters, and work responsibilities. Financial stress can also rise through expensive therapies and treatments. Parents must put their own lives on hold to help their child with autism learn and grow. This can lead to stresses on their marriage, finances, relationships, other children, job, and personal life.


Coping with different stressors that come with parenting a child with autism can be a great way to grow stronger as a parent, a spouse, and a sibling. It does take a lot of hard work and the right tools put in place to cope with them accordingly. The physical stressors from parenting any child – preparing meals, scheduling activities, arranging playdates, bathing, combined with the emotional stressors of parenting – parent-child conflicts, time management, worry about their child’s well-being – are now compounded with the unique stressors that come with parenting a child on the autism spectrum. There are ways in which to handle these stressors that make the family stronger and there are many support systems, groups, and family counselors that can help overcome these challenges.

The first way in handling anything is recognizing the problem. Identify the goal at hand and then move forward to find ways to productively deal with it. Below are some of the stressors that families might experience when taking care of their child on the autism spectrum:


Emotional Stress

Hearing about an autism diagnosis is never easy. The family may experience a whole host of emotional ups and downs, which may start before the time of diagnosis and continue indefinitely. Compared to other parents’ stress levels, parents of child with autism have higher levels of stress in their lives. It is important to recognize these feelings as they occur and ask for help through therapy, counseling, support groups, and more.


Communication Barrier

A child on the spectrum of autism might not be able to communicate what they want in a way their family can understand. This can lead to their parents playing a guessing game. Is their child hungry? Is he/she sick? Is the child tired or does he/she want something else? This can lead to frustration for both parent and child and leave the family feeling defeated.


Injury and Self-Harm

When a child’s needs are not met the child gets frustrated. This frustration may lead a child with autism to act in harmful/self-harmful ways. He/she might threaten the safety of the family members i.e. parents, siblings, and self. It is crucial to reach out to specialists, and other helpful resources if this is a common occurrence.

Compulsive or Inappropriate Behaviors

Abnormal and compulsive behaviors can cause parents embarrassment or shame. Children with autism might act in a peculiar way, make strange noises, or appear embarrassing to others who do not have a child on the autism spectrum. This can cause parents concern since their child might be made fun of, cast out, or talked about in a bullying manner. Sometimes children with autism may act out in inappropriate ways. They might take food off of other’s plates or undress themselves in public. If the child acts out in inappropriate ways, they might not be able to go to the birthday party or the family function. This can lead to more stress on the family with regard to marital stress, isolation, and embarrassment.

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Guilt and Fear

Parents often guilt themselves into thinking they are the ones who gave this to their child. Remember, it is not anyone’s fault. It is not in anyone’s control. Autism is a condition that affects 1 in every 68 children. Parents do their best and can only control how they interact with their child and the people around them. Fear often shows up in individuals with autism in unexpected ways. A child with autism might shriek and cry over a stuffed animal with spots, but might not think twice over climbing up a two-story house. Parents try their best to keep their child and themselves as safe as possible but they need to recognize that fear and guilt do not help. A child’s autism is not anyone’s fault. Parents will continue to protect and prevent harm as best they can. It is important to recognize that a parent can only do their part and then make peace with what they cannot do.


Sleepless Nights

Families and parents know the stress that comes with getting their child into bed, putting them to sleep, and hoping they sleep through the night. When a child is on the autism spectrum, that same activity can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and different every night. Scheduled dinner times may not be an option for those who cannot sit still for extended periods of time. Sleepless nights become a regular occurrence. Studies have shown how stress and cortisol increases for those who do not get enough sleep each night. Ultimately, this can feel like a never-ending battle.


Sibling Stress

Autism deeply affects their siblings as they navigate through the different family dynamics. They can feel left out or second because their parents’ attention goes towards their sibling with autism. They can grow up too fast and take on the role of parent or try to be extra good so they don’t add to the stress in the family home. To keep peace in the household, parents often ask the sibling to make major behavioral modifications to not upset their brother or sister with autism. It is imperative to carve out special time with that child and communicate with them, hear their needs and respect their wishes as well. Providing sympathy and compassion to each child in the house can make all the difference.


Financial Stress

Parents of a child with autism often face financial burden paired with the need to work a full time job to stay afloat. Paired with the initial financial burden of raising a child, now added on are doctor’s visits, treatments, specialists, therapies, medications, and more. Before spending money on treatments and medications that are not covered by most private health insurance companies, it could help to wait. Ask others who have tried them, and get as much information as possible about that treatment. Look to your support groups and other parents of children with autism for answers. Make sure you and your spouse are a team and can work together. Find some work to do at home if one parent needs to stay with the child. Remember that money does not solve a child with autism’s problems. “Stress spending” on new toys is never the way. A good way to solve this problem is to set up a toy share between other parents. When a child stops playing with a toy, swap it out for another child in your community’s toy. That way, the toys get used and the money gets saved.


This may seem like a daunting list. Know that there are support systems, groups and centers filled with resources, guidance counselors, and other parents that are going through the same thing that can help with open arms. The four main ways autism affects stress in the family are, emotional, marital, sibling, and financial. Understanding these difficulties in families is the first step in overcoming them. Family counseling can help with communication, marital problems, and sibling rivalry. Psychotherapy and support groups can help handle the varied emotional impact of Autism. We, at MindWell can help treat your child with autism and thus, help the family as a whole. The best thing to remember for parents is to take care of each other by taking care of themselves. If parents want to take the best possible care of their child, they must first take the best possible care of themselves.

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