Raising Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum: Dealing with Parental Stress

Of course, not all moms and dads of children with ASD level 1, or high functioning autism (HFA), are under stress, but many are. 
 
As one mother states, “You learn to live with a significant amount of stress and you throw yourself into your everyday job as a parent when you have a youngster with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you work outside the home, you work even harder - and you don't think much about taking care of yourself.

Some moms and dads worry that they could have done something to prevent their youngster's problems. They also agonize over whether they could do more now. Some stress is to be expected. As long as you're sleeping and eating well, enjoying much of your day-to-day life, and finding support where you need it, your stress is probably not too overwhelming.



Are you too stressed? Ask yourself these questions:
  • Are symptoms of stress impeding your functioning?
  • Are you finding it hard to get through the day's activities?
  • Are you having a hard time eating, sleeping, or getting up in the morning?

If you're exhausted and overwhelmed on a regular basis, you're more susceptible to physical and mental disorders. You may need time and help to recharge your batteries and find coping mechanisms. And it's important to take action now for the future. After all, when you're the mother or father of a "special needs" youngster, you're in it for the long term.

An experienced professional can help give you concrete ideas for finding time and space for yourself. He/she can also work with you to develop specific coping strategies. Changes in attitude can make a big difference, and there are many ways to work on your own feelings. It may also be helpful to have an appropriate time and place to let out pent-up frustration that's so often a part of coping with a youngster with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It's important to find a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker who has specific experience in working with families affected by autism spectrum disorder. To find such a person, get in touch with local support groups and ask for advice. Check out online databases. Ask your family doctor for suggestions, too. Some states offer a service called "mobile therapy." This program brings therapists into your home to work with you and your whole family.

The main thing parents with an HFA youngster need to know is that they are not alone. There is help out there! Even if you are a single mom raising kids alone, there is help. It's up to the parent, however, to realize that it's not a sign of failure as a parent to need and accept help in caring for your child.

Discipline for a child on the autism spectrum is often very different than the way you would discipline a neurotypical child. So a parent is often left feeling helpless and not knowing what to do, and feeling they have nowhere to turn in getting a break from parenting. In fact, a lot of moms and dads actually feel guilty for even wanting a break, let alone taking one. 
 
The idea of a few hours away from their youngster makes them feel as though they are failing him or her as a parent. For some reason, some parents feel that to parent their youngster, that means being around them and caring for them 24/7 without any outside help.

Moms and dads need to take a break! Hire a competent babysitter, even a nurse if needed, get family to help, ask a friend for help! The point is this: get out of the house alone or with your spouse for a few hours and enjoy yourself. You can’t change any of the issues your youngster may have, but you can get a break. You can get out a few hours a week alone to unwind and you can get help to allow you to get that much needed break.

There are no easy answers on how to raise a son or daughter on the spectrum. Every child is different, as is every parent in their parenting methods. But the stress level is invariably there. Handling the stress is necessary in order to provide good care not only for your youngster, but for yourself and the rest of the family as well.

Many parents go through a difficult time when their youngster is first diagnosed. But after a year or two, most do learn to cope, enjoy their youngster's achievements and their own lives, and have fun.

These "special needs" children are special indeed – and we love our children very much. But we as moms and dads need to be able to unwind and relieve the stress so that we are better able to parent. Never feel guilty for needing to ask for help!

Bottom line: If you're not the person you normally are, then that's a reason to get help, or at least consider that possibility.

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