Parenting is associated with various challenges. Being a parent to a child with special needs may further add to the task. Whether your child has special physical, mental or emotional needs, it may be quite overwhelming for you. Similar is the case with parenting an autistic child. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) comprises a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. It is a type of developmental disability affecting about 1 in 54 children in the United States. Developmental disabilities cause impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior areas. Generally, autistic children do not have any distinct physical features that would set them apart from other people. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, the extent to which a child is affected may vary. The affected children have varying degrees of problems with the way they communicate, interact, behave and learn.
A child with autism essentially has the same basic needs as any other child. They need healthy food, good rest, adequate sleep, physical activities, regular dental and health check-ups and most importantly your love and care. An autistic child, however, may express and interact in ways you find difficult to understand or be comfortable with. For example, headbanging in an autistic child may be a sign of feeling unwell or hungry. Having an autistic child affects the entire family although it is usually the parents who are affected the most. Children with ASD may have complex needs that may require considerable financial, physical and emotional investment. This may cause a lot of stress on the parents. Focusing on the autistic child may create challenges for other relationships. The parent or caregiver may at times need to forget their ambitions and career goals to ensure their child gets the necessary care. Here are a few suggestions that may help parents or caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder:
- Take a break from the stress to ensure your and your family’s well-being.
- Accept help from your family and friends even if it is just having someone who listens.
- Join support groups for parents of children with ASD. You may also join online groups or follow blogs, vlogs or pages that provide helpful content. Sharing experiences, including challenges and solutions, truly helps.
- Consider taking some courses that may help with parenting autistic children. Educating yourself about your child’s condition will put you in a better position for managing it.
- Take regular breaks every day no matter how short they are and do what relaxes you. It may be painting or a short walk. Do not feel guilty for having some “me time.”
- Explain to family members and your other children the difficulties your autistic child has. This may help them understand your situation better and provide the support you need.
- Do not be overindulgent. Your autistic child needs space and autonomy as well. Let them be on their own when they are in a safe environment. Let them explore and learn.
- Seek help from a professional when needed. If you or your partner are overly stressed, depressed or overwhelmed, seek a qualified therapist’s help.
- Making your child with ASD understand their condition is also important. You need to do it at the right time and in the right way. Discuss with your doctor how to communicate it to your child.
- Seek financial aid for caregivers of children with special needs.
To provide the best care for your child, you need to care for yourself as well. Do not hesitate to seek help or invest time in your health. Maintain a journal to write about your challenges, failures and triumphs. Share stories with people with similar challenges.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?" https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html
Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review: "Parent and Family Impact of Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Review and Proposed Model for Intervention Evaluation." https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22869324/