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Discovering that your child is on the autism spectrum can be devastating. As parents, besides feeling sadness and fear, we may feel a lot of anger and resentment towards the child. All of these feelings are natural. It takes a lot of additional time and energy to help our autistic child, and this can lead to anger and frustration on our part. We then may feel guilty for having that anger, thinking, “How can I feel this way?”
Identifying The Challenges
We might also start wondering what we did or could have done differently to change an outcome, causing more guilt. And, because of the extra time and energy that an autism spectrum child needs, often partners and other siblings receive less attention.
Probably one of the most challenging areas for a parent is finding a way to find time for partners, other children, and ourselves. It is not uncommon for the lack of time to create conflict with a partner, too.
And, if mom happens to be the primary care giver, she often gives up her work or career to stay home and prioritize the needs of her child. And this creates a whole host of other issues and feelings.
Emotional energy can also be at a low ebb. Navigating school systems and other social systems in order to get services that the child needs is physically and emotionally tiring. And then, patience can be really tested by our children.
We are trying to not only deal with our own feelings, but simultaneously with the behavior of our child. This is tough with any child, but with a child with special needs, it is even more complex.
In addition, if we are just now being faced with the prospect of autism, an intense period of grief can arise. The vision that we had of our child – including college, marriage, grandchildren – may or may not play out anymore.
Indeed, a parent may start to realize that we will need to help our child through later stages in life, when we had not planned on that. Our child is not the child that we had originally thought they would be, and that can lead to a disconnect. Much like mourning, we can suffer from feelings of loss.
All of these concerns can lead to depression and anxiety for parents of autistic children. What is important to know, though, is that all of these feelings are normal. And, with a little bit of help and work, they can be worked through. New ways of interacting joyously with your family can be found.
Tips For Coping Better With A Child Who Has Autism Or Aspergers
Take Care Of Your Own Emotional Needs First
If you have not properly grieved yet over what may seem like a loss, then take some time to do that. Really allow yourself to feel the emotion – whatever that may be (anger, sadness). Take time to sink into that feeling and express it, either out loud to yourself or on paper.
Capitalize On Your Child’s Uniqueness
Sarita Freedman, PhD and autism expert, tells us that we can discover what it is about your child that is unique and wonderful, and then try to incorporate these things when playing or choosing activities. Let your child who is there before you be your guide – not the child you might have wished for. (Sage advice for any parent!)
Make Sure To Find Time For A Date Night With Your Partner
Allow that time to be about the relationship, and not talking about the child or children. Try to talk about your connection with your partner, or do something that you both enjoy doing.
Have Date Night With Other Siblings
Allow for some special time with just that other child.
Learn your own “trigger” thoughts and feelings and recognize when you need a “parent time-out”, even if only for a moment. Find alternative thoughts when things like “I can’t handle this anymore” or “I don’t want to do this” come up – perhaps something more like “I am here, in the moment, making time for my child” or other phrases that help you.
Learning patience and consistency is probably one of the most important ways to be helpful for a child on autism spectrum.
Find A Support System
You will need family or really good friends to get a break. Try to aim for an hour to yourself every day for exercise or contemplation. Even if you have to pay to have help, it will be worth it for your own health and the health of your marriage!
Educate The Rest Of The Family
Make sure to include siblings and extended family members too, about what autism means and how they can best help.
Find A Trusted Therapist
It can be a huge key on the emotional journey of autistic children. Finding someone to talk to who will not judge or have other needs, other than to merely listen and guide, can be invaluable.
Whether anger, frustration, or sadness, a great psychotherapist will help to work through the intensity of the feelings and create a space for joy and happiness.
At Nassau Guidance, we have worked with many parents and families who have struggles with these concerns. We open our arms to everyone and have the insight and knowledge that will help you to find a little more serenity in your daily life.