How Autism Affects The Family
Your child was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and now you fear that your whole world might be turned upside down.
I get it. I understand.
You begin thinking about how your friends and relatives are going to react. You’re plagued with worry about finances for potential medication costs and therapies. Maybe you wonder what the future is going to hold, and how hard it may or may not be.
And then you think of your spouse, your other children, and even about potential future kids.
What is autism going to do to your family?
The ways in which autism affects the family varies based upon the severity of the diagnosis. Maintaining a healthy relationship, meeting the needs of your neurotypical children, and providing your autistic child with all that they need to succeed however, is directly impacted by your parenting, your support system, and how well you educate yourself.
In other words, how autism affects the family is largely based on the steps and actions you take.
If you’re a new autism parent, I urge you to read my article specifically for new autism parents. It is titled, My Child Was Diagnosed With Autism, Now What?
In that article I discuss getting help for your child, providing what they need to succeed, various therapies and much more.
For this article though, I want to focus more specifically on the family unit as a whole.
How Autism Affects Siblings
Many paradigms shift when you learn you are an autism parent.
What once might have been unthinkable with your other children, is now not only tolerated, but completely accepted with your autistic child.
The effects of autism on siblings should be taken seriously.
I can give you a list a mile long of things that I once would have never allowed from my kids that is now a routine part of life with our autistic child.
These aren’t done because my child is spoiled. They are allowances that have been made due to his very real diagnosis.
What Autism May Look Like To The Siblings
It isn’t fair that the autistic sibling gets to sit in the front seat of the car when everyone else has to sit in the back.
It’s unfair that one child has chores like vacuuming or doing the dishes, while the one with autism only has to set the table or pick things up off the floor.
It’s not fair that one child is responsible for taking the dog out while the other only has to feed the dog.
The examples are endless!
Then there are the autism behaviors which affect the family as a whole.
The kids are expected to keep their door closed or use earbuds when listening to their music. Meanwhile, your child with autism listens to things full blast, or yells through the house seemingly at will.
If your neurotypical child talks back they are in trouble. If your autistic child has a meltdown and is screaming at you however, it looks like it is tolerated. They seem to be let off the hook with just a good talk after things calm down.
One is apparently expected to behave while the other seemingly gets away with everything.
Making Autism Easier For All Of Your Kids
If you have more than one child, meeting the needs of your neurotypical children is just as important as helping the one who has autism.
And since taking care of your ASD child will typically require more of your time and attention, it is vitally important that you don’t neglect not only the physical needs of your other children, but their emotional needs as well.
Unfortunately autism and family stress sometimes go hand in hand, but the effects can be minimized.
Taking the time to give your neurotypical children one on one attention may seem like an impossibility at times, but is crucial to providing them with the support that they need.
Here Are Some Ways You Can Do That.
- Take turns as parents spending time with each child. Just as one parent should not have to shoulder all of the work, neither should one parent be the main support for any of the kids.
- Include your other kids in some decision making. Try as you might, sometimes sacrifices have to be made when you’re part of an autism family. Sometimes schedules overlap. Other times your wants and desires to do something as simple as go out to eat gives way to realities such as your ASD child not being able to handle such excursions. Let your kids help schedule things, set priorities (within reason), and help find solutions that makes the entire family happy.
- Be dependable. It’s just a fact of life that sometimes plans have to be rearranged or canceled. When things like that happen, don’t just let it go. Make sure to reschedule the planned event and make it happen.
- Do things with your kids that don’t include your autistic child. Yes it’s important to do things as a family, and yes you want to include your autistic child in as much as possible, but that child WILL receive special attention that no other child gets. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally doing something special just for your other kids as well.
- Set boundaries. Let’s face it. We all know that there are times when we allow something to happen that we shouldn’t simply because it’s easier. It’s less stressful to tell your neurotypical child to ignore something than it is the one with autism. Easier to give in to your autistic child to avoid a meltdown than it is make them stop annoying a sibling. It’s easier to watch a TV show that the ASD child wants to watch rather than have them get mad or get loud and ruin whatever it is you really wanted to watch. Constantly giving in to your autistic child though, and expecting everyone else to make all of the sacrifices is not only unfair to the siblings, but it does nothing to teach your kiddo about thinking of others, or that bad actions have consequences.
Autism Effects On Relationships
There is a myth out there that says 80% of married couples who have a child with autism end up divorced.
I’m sure you’ve read this on the internet before, but it’s just not true!
In fact there has been an actual study regarding this, and the results were that there is NO significant change in the number of divorces. There was literally a 1% difference between neurotypical families that stay together, and families that have a child on the spectrum.
I am not saying that it is just as easy to maintain a healthy relationship in an autism family as it is in a neurotypical family. Nor am I saying that autism parents do not get divorced.
I am simply stating that having a child with autism, statistically speaking, does not increase your risk for divorce.
That being said, there are certainly additional challenges that should be looked at for couples who have a child with autism.
Look At These Examples
- Financial hardships. Having a child on the spectrum often means additional expenses such as medication, therapies, perhaps special schooling and other costs. Do your research. Find out early what your insurance company will and will not cover. Contact Early Intervention services right away, as you typically have access to free services. You can learn more about this here 2-5 Year Olds, Will Anyone Help Me?
- Differences of opinion. There generally aren’t any hard or fast rules regarding parenting. As a result, mom may think option A is the best choice while dad believes in option B. Go into this together. Make sure that you always have what’s in your child’s best interest at heart, and then have some faith that your partner is doing the same. Much of who your child becomes as an adult will be a product of BOTH parents, good or bad, not just one or the other.
- Quality time together. It’s no secret that having kids reduces the amount of time parents have together as a couple. This is even more true for parents of a child on the spectrum. That means it’s even more important that the time you have together is quality time.
- Time alone. Now that we’ve pointed out the importance of the quality of your time together, you should also be aware that you need time alone. Constantly giving of yourself to your kids, your special needs child, your spouse as well as to your other commitments such as family, friends and work is great and all, but if you don’t spend some time recharging your own battery you will burn yourself out. It’s vital that you find at least a little time to focus on YOU!
Minimizing The Affects Autism Has On The Family
I often say that it is important for everybody to have that one special “someone”.
Not a parent, not a spouse, but that one special someone in your life who just gets it.
The person who knows that you don’t mean it when you say you’re ready to kill your child. The same person who also knows you well enough to take action if you’re to the point where you just might LOL!
This person may or may not understand autism to the extent of an autism parent, but they know YOU well enough, and they don’t judge.
Be that person for others and soon enough you will find that person for you.
As autism parents, we often feel all alone.
It typically seems that parents without kids on the spectrum just don’t get it.
And I can tell you that after thousands of conversations with other autism parents, this generally rings true. This doesn’t have to be the case though. There are many ways to find support.
Do These Things!
- Join an online autism parenting group. You want to see that you are not alone? That the things you are going through may not be “normal” in a neurotypical family, but are absolutely normal for families who have someone on the spectrum? By joining a closed Facebook group or some other online autism parenting support group you will quickly find yourself surrounded by tons of people who experience the same things you do everyday, and who will not judge you for it.
- Find a local real life autism parents support group. We all know that our time is valuable, but by joining a local group, you will have the opportunity to interact with other parents who face the same challenges you do. Find out which Dr.’s they use, which dentists, which babysitters etc… You may also find some sincere, lifelong friends! If your area doesn’t have one, start one!
- Educate your family. Many times, your immediate family will not have experience with autism. This can make it difficult to use them as support since they may be judgmental, and not always understand the differences between behaviors that are a part of the diagnosis and ones that actually need addressed. Educate them, and offer the same research sources that you use so that they can better help you and your child.
I hope this information has been valuable enough to encourage you to share it with others.
There is no doubt that autism will affect both your immediate family as well as anyone else you are close to in your life. This affect does not have to be negative!
By educating yourself, educating others, and maintaining healthy balances, you and your family can do more than just survive, you can thrive.
There is no scientific evidence I have found to support this, but experience has shown me that autism families tend to be stronger, closer emotionally and get along better than their neurotypical counterparts.
Maybe this is because rather than taking life as it goes, they are forced to work hard to create the type of life that they want.
Perhaps it’s because autism parents learn to slow down and appreciate the smaller successes in life, and even more greatly appreciate the bigger ones!
Parents fear that their kids will resent their autistic sibling. While I am sure this is true in some cases, I have found the opposite to be true more often than not.
Autism siblings tend to be more supportive and protective of their brother or sister on the spectrum both as children, and on into their adult life.
An Important Note
Facing reality, we do know that parents sometimes divorce.
Despite studies showing that having a child with autism does not statistically increase the chance for divorce, there are times when it does happen. There are some people who feel that they can not handle the added responsibilities of raising a child on the spectrum.
Worse yet there are people who can handle it, but choose not to.
I want to say to those single parents out there who are raising an autistic child on your own because your spouse or partner decided to leave, that you did nothing wrong.
It’s not your fault, nor is it your child’s fault that this happened.
We can not be responsible for the actions and choices that other people make.
You are not a bad person. Your kiddo is not a bad person.
I also want to say that if you find yourself in this scenario, you will be OK. I’m not saying it will be easy, I am just saying you will make it.
You will amaze yourself with the amount of strength and perseverance you have, and you will do what you need to do because that’s who you are.
You will find that you are stronger than you ever imagined.
Autism is not something to be feared. It is simply something to be accepted and understood. By doing so, you and your family will go far beyond anything you ever imagined.