When a child in the family is diagnosed with autism, it doesn’t only transform the life of the child but of the entire family as well. Stress levels are high due to erratic therapy appointments, home treatments, and other problems at work and home. Financial burdens would also come in, as treatment and therapy are quite expensive.
These sources of stress will impact family life in different unfavorable ways. Parents are obliged to care for their autistic child, let alone all their children and the rest of the family. Managing the stress of being parents could build strength in the family and the marriage, but this needs a strong support system and, of course, hard work.
The impact of autism spectrum disorder to parents and families are seen in several ways.
Impact To Marriage. Research reveals that parents who have autistic children had almost 10% changes in filing for divorce than other parents. Marriage stressors may include:
- Quality time as a couple becomes hard because of the many therapies and doctors’ appointment schedules.
- Parents usually acknowledge their child’s ASD diagnosis through different means and different times, and this may cause conflict between both of them.
- It is daunting and frustrating to look for childcare.
- Financial burdens can cause issues between parents.
Impact Between Siblings. A child diagnosed with having the spectrum also has a big impact on his brother or sister. Siblings also go through a lot of stresses confronted by the rest of the family. Further, parents might not give them sufficient attention and support because their hands are full with commitments for their autistic child. In other families with children with ASD, a more severe type of sibling rivalry is often seen. Some families can overcome these problems if they are in control of the factors that increase their stress and anxiety.
Emotional Impact. Autism spectrum disorder covers many emotional struggles for the entire family, which begins even before the diagnosis and progresses indefinitely. The Pediatrics Journal reported that moms of kids with ASD frequently graded their mental health status has average or poor. Unlike the general population, the level of stress that these moms go through is much higher. Aside from this, parents of children with ASD mostly encounter:
- Social isolation
- Shame over their child’s erratic behavior when they are in the public
- Depression and insecurity over other parents not having to experience what they are going through
- Guilt from the thought that they might have done something that caused the autism
- Bitterness towards their child and remorse for feeling bitter
- Hopelessness because there is no cure for autism
Impact On Finances. A family who has an autistic member is often confronted with heavy financial burdens. The cost of treatments and therapies is usually not covered by private health insurers, which is a bit costly. Parents pay for doctors’ visits and medications, which results in big financial debts. Pediatrics stated that families with ASD children went through almost 15% of loss in their family funds. Full-time jobs become difficult for both parents, so the risk of losing a job is high, severely affecting the family’s financial situation.
A good initial step to solving the problems that arise in families because of autism is gaining more knowledge of how it impacts family members and connections. Counseling can guide parents in learning how to manage communication and marriage problems, while psychotherapy helps tackle the impact of autism mentally and emotionally. They can also try joining support networks where they get to meet fellow parents with autistic kids. On the other hand, parents, too, should take good care of themselves to be efficient caregivers to their children.
How Parents Can Avoid Stress
Undoubtedly, stress is part and parcel of one’s life, but there are still things that parents can do to get rid of stress and be successful in tackling the challenges of having an autistic child.
Be organized. Often, stress is associated with not being in control of things. Being organized is an efficient means to get things and even stress levels manageable. In your everyday life, for instance, concentrate on having things done one at a time. Try practicing family rules and routines and make adjustments for your child with autism.
Stick to family traditions. Traditions in the family provide a sense of balance amidst stressful times. You may need to make changes to your previous traditions to meet your child’s needs. For instance, your usual long trips on the weekends may need to be done closer to home so that you don’t need to drive long hours, and emergencies can be handled better when you’re not too far away from home.
Take care of yourself. When you have an autistic child, it not uncommon to neglect self-care. However, you can decrease the stress and anxiety in the family by ensuring that all members are given time to do the things that they love to do. Make a list of things that each member’s hobbies or bucket lists and then try to incorporate these and plan on which ones to do next. Remind the family, including you, that fun and happiness are part of one’s daily life.