People with Autism process information and emotions in ways that are often seen as unique or baffling to neurotypical people (people without Autism). The differences between how Autistic and non-Autistic people experience reality can cause a great deal of social difficulty and frustration for both parties. This is especially true in the parent-child relationship.
If you are the parent of an Autistic child, you may find yourself struggling to understand and honor how your child experiences reality. You may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information about Autism that is available, and uncertain about how best to support your child. You may also be dealing with feelings of stress, alienation, and depression, related to the difficulty of parenting. However, you don’t have to struggle on your own.
There are many resources available to help you parent your Autistic child more effectively, and cope with your own feelings of stress or depression.
Learn New Ways to Communicate
If you do not have Autism, you have probably been taught that the ideal way to communicate is by looking someone in the eye and talking in a casual, conversational manner. This method is not effective for many children (or adults) with Autism. Eye contact can be physically painful for Autistic people of all ages. Some people with Autism also struggle to understand figures of speech, sarcasm, and changes in tone of voice. Furthermore, some Autistic people are unable verbally form words.
Being unable to speak with your child can be dispiriting and stressful. However, there are many other ways to communicate with a person who has Autism. Try sitting next to your child, rather than facing them, and speak without forcing eye contact on them. When you are trying to convey a point to your child, speak in a very literal and concrete way, so it is easy to interpret your words. If your child is nonverbal, provide them with a keyboard, writing implement, or computer program that gives them the opportunity to communicate without their voice. Many nonverbal Autistic people are capable of writing or typing out their thoughts, even if they cannot speak. By connecting meaningfully with your child, on their own terms, you can reduce stress and feelings of isolation for the both of you.
Connect with the Autistic Adults
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, or ASAN, is an international organization run by Autistic people. This organization educates people with Autism & their loved ones about how to accommodate the needs of Autistic people and help them to thrive. The organization also offers services and programs to the parents and caregivers of people with Autism, as well.
As a parent of an Autistic child, you can benefit from attending local events and learning more about how Autistic people see the world. You can also locate and speak to grown Autistic people, who can explain what their neurotype is like, and what parenting strategies or choices you should avoid. Meeting and speaking with happy, healthy adults with Autism can also help you reduce feelings of stigma, and can encourage you to feel hopeful about your child’s future.
Join a Support Group for Parents of Autistic Children
Parenting any child is immensely stressful. The stress of childrearing is even more intense when your child has a disability that is not respected or understood by much of the outside world. You will need help processing your feelings and working to connect with your Autistic child. A support group filled with other parents of Autistic children is a fantastic place to build community, learn, grown, and feel less alone.
aGroupforME.com offers online, video-chat support groups, organized by shared experiences. After signing up for aGroupforME, you can be placed in a group of up to 12 people, comprised entirely of parents whose children have Autism. During regularly scheduled meetings, you can discuss your stress and confusion, bond with other people who understand your struggles and learn about how to be a more effective and happy parent to your Autistic child. Parenting is hard work, and nobody can do it alone. Find online support at aGroupforME.com.
Baker-Ericzén, M. J., Brookman-Frazee, L., & Stahmer, A. (2005). Stress levels and adaptability in parents of toddlers with and without autism spectrum disorders. Research and practice for persons with severe disabilities, 30(4), 194-204.
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Osborne, L. A., McHugh, L., Saunders, J., & Reed, P. (2008). Parenting stress reduces the effectiveness of early teaching interventions for autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 38(6), 1092.
Schwarz, P. (2004). Building alliances: Community identity and the role of allies in autistic self-advocacy. Ask and tell: Self-advocacy and disclosure for people on the autism spectrum. Shawnee Mission (KS): Autism Asperger Publishing Co.