Every parent knows the stress of being responsible for each life that they have brought into the world. Even if you already have children and feel you have the parenting role down pat, there is always something right around the corner that makes you question your parenting. Now — add autism to the parenting equation and watch the stress levels soar!
Not Being Able to Communicate Needs Can Be Frustrating
A child with autism may not express their needs or communicate anything in the way that most people would. This can leave both the child and the parents frustrated, as the child is upset that they are not getting what they need and the parent is left feeling inadequate as they try to guess what the child is trying to tell them. When the child is frustrated, they may take out those frustrations in the form of aggressive behavior directed toward either themselves or others. If these behaviors are directed towards the parents or siblings, it can lead to additional stress for the parents. Many children with autism require lots of structure and do not handle changes to their routine well – and this can leave siblings feeling like the parents favor the child with autism.
Being Out in Public Can Be Challenging
A simple trip to the grocery store to pick up a few things can pose a big challenge to the parents of a child with autism. Autism is not an affliction that can be detected simply by looking at the person. A child with autism who acts out in public because they are overwhelmed may appear to other shoppers to be a child may seem to be an unruly child or one in need of discipline.
When Devin was about 7 or 8, we made a trip to WalMart one Saturday morning. I had instructed Devin ahead of time that he was not getting any toys or anything as he had just gotten Christmas presents and he did not need anything else. I had to remind him of this several times as we completed our shopping, but with a sigh of relief we made it to the checkout lane without any outbursts. As I was putting my items on the checkout stand, Devin spotted a Hot Wheels car on display next to us and asked if he could get one. Sticking to my guns, I gently reminded him that he had Christmas presents at home to play with (including a couple of similar cars). As I turned back to emptying my cart, he went into a full-blown tantrum and was screaming at the top of his lungs! Not only did I have to endure the tantrum while paying for my purchases, but it was winter outside and we still had to put our coats on before we ventured into the parking lot. Under a lot of stares from other people there, I completed my transaction and persuaded Devin over to an area to get ready to go outside in the cold.
Educating the unknowing
As we walked out the door and headed towards our car, Devin was still screaming and crying. I was trying to push my cart through the snow on the ground and keep hold of Devin’s hand when I heard a male voice behind me say, “Now that is obviously a child in need of some discipline.” As a female voice tried to hush him, I calmly turned back and replied, “And you are obviously someone who has never dealt with autism.” “What does that have to do with anything?” the man asked.
So I proceeded to explain to him that Devin had autism and that he had simply become overstimulated and overwhelmed from being in the store. He asked me a few more questions, and I answered them. By the time we parted ways, he had apologized for making an assumption about Devin with no basis as well as thanked me for educating him. He said he would take everything into consideration the next time he saw a child throwing a tantrum and try not to assume that it was due to poor parenting.
I left feeling like I had made a difference, even though I was stressed to the max and freezing cold!
Other Stress Factors
Many other factors can play a role in leaving a parent stressed when their child has autism. The child may not sleep all night, resulting in one or both parents being sleep-deprived. Or the parents may be dealing with a picky eater, or a child with other developmental issues in addition to the autism.
It might be issues with trying to get the child the assistance that they need in order to learn at school or correct other issues such as speech or physical therapy.
Stress can also come simply in the form of trying to accept the fact that the child may not ever have the type of life that was hoped for prior to the autism diagnosis.
Ways to Deal With The Stress
The most important thing in dealing with the stress is to take care of yourself. You are no good to anybody in your family if you are not well yourself! Take time out for yourself to enjoy some activities that you enjoy, and ensure that your spouse or partner is able to do the same.
Network with other parents in the area who are also dealing with autism — they might not be dealing with exactly the same issues, but they might have some ideas for you that you can adapt for your child. In some areas, there may be support groups organized for parents of children with autism. Or find an online support group!
Ask family members to help out when they can or if they are able. You are not in this alone — there are many families everywhere dealing with autism!
If you have any comments, questions or ideas to share on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment below! Or maybe you have another area related to autism that you would like me to talk about! Just let me know!