Research has revealed that parents and siblings of special needs children are exposed to very high levels of stress. To make things even more complicated, parental distress and the way the family is functioning has an impact on children’s cognitive, behavioral and social development. Autism had been classified as one of the most complex developmental disorders, and consequently leads to complex responses in families.
Therefore, parents with autistic children face challenges in several different ways. Since autism is characterized by the absence of social interaction, such as creating an attachment with parents and caretakers, and expressing affection toward them, some parents may feel that they have been “robbed” from some of the basic parental rewards. The more severe the child’s symptoms are, the more stress will be imposed on the family. The more severe the negative behavior of the autistic child, the more social isolation the family will experience.
As a result of this, parents with autistic children have a greater risk to develop depression, experience periods of hopelessness, marital difficulties, feelings of shock, guilt or even overwhelming anger.
Mothers and fathers are effected to a different degree, and often times mothers have been stigmatized more so by their children’s disorder. Cultural issues can enhance the severity of isolation and lack of support in some cases.
A few years ago, getting a child diagnosed was around age 4 or 5 years. These days parents are able to have their children evaluated, and start them in an early intervention program. Getting services for children with autism at an early age can reduce stress on the family, and it is also proven that they have a greater chance to improve with the available therapy.
I wanted to share my personal experiencing about this.
When Amin started to behave in a different way, I turned to his pediatrician and the answer I got was “ do not worry he is a boy, they are lazy, and he is a second child, who has a sister who is always talking.” He wouldn’t even consider to send him anywhere. I asked others, and got the same answer. I took it upon myself and called the Texas Children’s Hospital to get him evaluated. They gave me an appointment for 2 ½ years later, saying he is too young, and they do not have any openings because of all the evaluations of other kids.
I found another doctor, independent from Children’s Hospital who got me in less than 3 wks later, and gave me the diagnosis. For even that 3 weeks of time I felt more stressed than any other time. My motto is, “it is better knowing than not knowing.” Once I know what is the problem, I can go and see what I can do about it. Sticking your head in the sand will not diminish nor resolve any problems. Autism is not like “out of sight, out of mind”.
After Amin was diagnosed, within 2 days he started all the therapies that made a huge impact on his development. I still had stress, but I also had answers and goals for his future. I developed a flexible plan for us as a family (I use the word flexible, as you all know everything changes with autistic children sooner or later, so I wanted to have Plan A, plan B, and sometimes Plan C)
For me , getting the diagnosis was stress relief to a degree. It made me spring into action and I finally stopped wondering what am I doing wrong.
For some parents, stress starts with the diagnosis. Therefore creating a strong support system for yourself as a parent and for your typical and non-typical child is crucial.