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The Impacts of Autism
On The Family

By Rachel Evans

Having a child who has been diagnosed with autism can be a particularly challenging time for any family. The emotional roller coaster lurches from disbelief, anger, relief at finally having an explanation for your child's unusual behaviour, guilt, surprise, helplessness, devastation, understanding, and so the list goes on.

Then there are the more practical questions too, what sort of treatment is available, what are the education options, what level of care will be required, how will this effect other siblings, parental relationships and financially, what will the effect be?

Parents bear the brunt of the family responsibility with mothers often feeling the impact of their child's autism more personally than others.

Coping with an autistic child can lead to difficulties between parents with each playing a blame game. This can lead to a breakdown of the relationship, but researchers have found that this is no more likely than for families without autistic children.

Get More Information on Natural Remedies for Autism and other PDDs

Raising an autistic child is challenging and can be exhausting without support.

As the main role in bringing up children usually falls to the mother, they may experience additional emotional stress. This can impact on not only relationships between parents, but also performance at work, which can lead to feeling of resentment or possibly have a financial impact if they are forced to change working hours and responsibilities to fit in around childcare.

An autistic brother or sister also impacts on other siblings. You may notice their autistic sibling embarrasses them, they may be reluctant to bring friends home or be jealous of the amount of time you spend with their brother/sister.

On the other hand, there are some positives, siblings may develop strong feelings of protectiveness for their brother/sister and take an interest in their development.

Discussing with other siblings about their expected role, if any, in the future care of an autistic child is a good idea as most older children will start to wonder what their responsibilities might be as parents get older.

Having an open and honest discussion with all your children about future care is important so that siblings are not worrying unnecessarily.

Grandparents are also effected by an diagnosis of autism. They can feel a loss of a ‘normal’ grandchild and will often worry and experience stress on behalf of the parents.

Grandparents can be a huge help when caring for autistic children, but they can also hinder too, no matter how well meaning their intentions.

So, what can you do about reducing the impact on the family? Take time out.

It is vital for parents to take some time for themselves to recharge their relationship. Now, most people will say they don’t have time or there isn’t anyone to look after the children etc. Well they are missing the very important point. If you don’t look after yourself you can’t look after others - effectively anyway.

You don’t need to take a week or even a day off, just allow yourself some time to do something for you - take a bath, take a stroll together, share a glass of wine, read a chapter of a book… you get the idea.

Parenting is stressful and when an autistic child is in the mix it is even more so. It is important to keep moral up to stay motivated. This also applies for the rest of the family. You should remember to acknowledge that each member of the family contributes to the family dynamic. Remember to be appreciative of whatever role each member takes and their achievements.

Sometimes, you may occasionally want to go somewhere or do an activity with the rest of the family without your autistic child. This is not something to feel guilty about; you need to think about your other children and what their needs may be. They will sometimes need some ‘timeout’ from “autism” and just enjoy their parents company, without worrying about what their sibling may do.

Also, it’s important for parents to have some time to themselves, enjoy an evening out, a meal at a nice restaurant every now and again.

Financially and emotionally, raising a child with autism can be difficult. There are a number of resources that are available to you. Have a look at the following resources for more information:

USA - Living with Autism Resources
UK - Services for parents, carers and families
Australia - Autism Resources
Author - Rachel Evans

The Essential Guide to Autism  

Note from Jean

Autism does affect the whole family. I've always felt my other son (who is older than Jodi) missed out. Fortunately he has grown into a compassionate and kind individual,  but my friends say he is like "an only child with none of the benefits"!