An autism diagnosis not only changes the life of the child diagnosed, but also that of family members. Parents of an autistic child have to bear a lot of stress owing to complicated therapy schedules, home treatments, and juggling job responsibilities and family commitments. There is also financial stress coming from the expensive therapies and treatments.
Such stress may affect family life in various adverse ways. Parents of autistic children need to meet the needs of their children, as well as address the needs of their family. Coping with the stresses involved in being parents to an autistic child can strengthen families and marriages, but this requires a great support system and a lot of hard work.
Below are several ways families with children of ASD or autism are affected.
- Emotional impact. Autism brings with it a lot of emotional ups and downs for the family members, which start prior to the diagnosis and continue indefinitely. A study in the journal Pediatrics states that mothers of children with ASD often rated their status of mental health as fair or poor. Compared with the general population, their stress level was much higher.Besides having higher stress levels, parents of autistic children may experience the following:
- Embarrassment over their child’s behavior in public
- Feeling socially isolated
- Frustration at the difference between the parenting experience they are having and the one they had envisioned
- Guilt from thinking that they may be responsible for their child’s challenges
- Despair because of the disorder’s incurable nature
- Resentment of their child and guilt due to the resentment
- Anger at themselves, doctors and spouse
- Relief because there’s a name for their child’s challenges
- Feeling of overwhelm
- Marital impact. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology states that parents of autistic children had a 9.7 percent chance of getting divorced than did their peers. Marital stressors can include the following:
- Parents often accept their child’s autism diagnosis at different times and in different ways, which causes conflict.
- Spending time together becomes difficult because of the numerous commitments and inconsistent schedules.
- It’s often challenging to find child care for autistic children.
- Financial stress may cause problems between spouses.
- Sibling impact. A child with autism also influences his or her neuro-typical siblings. The siblings undergo many of the stresses faced by the other family members. Moreover, parents may not be able to provide them with full support, as they are overwhelmed meeting the needs and demands of their autistic child.In families having children with ASD as well as typically developing siblings, a more intense form of sibling rivalry can be seen. The autistic child’s need for more attention and time may cause siblings to feel left out and resentful. However, most families can surmount these challenges if they have control over the other factors leading to stress.
- Financial impact. Families with autistic children often face a huge financial burden. Expenses for autism treatment and therapies are not covered by most private health insurers, and they are quite expensive. The copays parents incur for medications and office visits often lead to a massive financial debt.According to a study featured in Pediatrics, families with an autistic child underwent an average loss of 14 percent in their entire family income. Working full-time becomes very tough for both parents. So, the family has to bear the increased expenses, in spite of having a lowered household income. Full-time employment is important for many parents for providing health insurance, and so, losing a full-time job may dramatically affect the family’s financial condition.
Perhaps the first step to sorting out the difficulties arising in families due to autism is understanding the way it affects family members and relationships. Family counseling can help parents deal with communication and marital problems, whereas psychotherapy can help dealing with autism’s emotional impact. Family members and parents can also consider joining support groups where they can meet other parents with autistic children. Parents must take care of themselves too, besides caring for their children with ASD, as to become better caregivers, they must care for themselves.