A child’s autism diagnosis affects every member of the family in different ways. Parents/caregivers must now place their primary focus on helping their child with ASD, which may put strains on their marriage, other children, work, finances, and personal relationships and responsibilities. Parents now have to shift much of their resources of time and money towards providing treatment and interventions for their child, to the exclusion of other priorities.
Almost every step forward in autism services and research can be traced back to passionate, driven and focused parents. We should all applaud this response from family members but it also must come with a warning. The very thing that makes these families so successful can also make it difficult for them to find a sense of balance. Spouses try to understand why they can’t seem to do enough or the right thing or why their mate fails to attack this challenge in the same manner. Divorce rates skyrocket among families with a child with autism. Siblings struggle to understand how to create their own identity in light of the challenge of a brother or sister with autism.
It is important for parents, grandparents or siblings of a person with autism to seek balance with the same zeal you seek solutions for your loved one. You have been given the wonderful opportunity and also the incredible challenge to love a person with autism and you will only make it through this journey if you can find balance.
Balance must be explored in how you relate to your significant other, how you relate to the other children in the family and other family members, and, most importantly how you maintain a balance in your own personal life. We are all multi-dimensional beings. Monitor your physical, mental and spiritual health. Make time to go for that walk, enjoy a date with your partner, meet a friend for coffee, plant some flowers in that garden, read something unrelated to autism, yes, even take up that hobby you put away when life got busy.
Because if you fail to take care of yourself you won’t be able to manage all that the person with autism will require of you in the long future ahead. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Your loved one needs you for the journey that is ahead for both of you.
Not One Answer & Not One Outcome
A diagnosis of autism may seem like a death sentence to some. But don’t be quick to predict that child’s lifetime. Yes, some may require a lifetime of supports but others will learn and grow far beyond where they live today.
Many families begin the journey expecting to find the one answer to solve the child’s problems. They soon discover there are so many different solutions offered by traditional and non-traditional experts that it can be overwhelming sorting through the material. There is no test that will help you understand just how far a person with autism will grow or what challenges may be overcome.
A large factor is how much a child will naturally grow through the developmental process and better understand their world. Each child is unique. Some families share that a child has benefited greatly from a teacher that used visual structures to communicate with the child. Other families report that the child responded to special diets or vitamins. Some parents share that intensive applied behavioral analysis programming was the answer to their child’s progress. With each new conference it seems that families have another strategy to try out with their children.
Don’t be overwhelmed with choices available. Study some options and be willing to consider them. Work with the interdisciplinary team through your educational system or providers. Consult your network of friends, educators, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and other specialists. And then test the ideas that make the most sense to you. Consider how you can quantify a change in the individual’s life. Monitor the child’s progress with these metrics. Be willing to establish a reasonable timeline for change and if this strategy doesn’t produce the desired results be willing to try something new.
Finding the Joy
People with autism grow up experiencing and living in a world that is different than the rest of us. What is “normal” to someone with autism isn’t “normal” to us. It is unfair to project what gives us pleasure or stress or happiness or anger or peace will be the same as a person with autism. This doesn’t make one better or worse than the other, just different.
The sooner we recognize this key difference the better we will be able to help those struggling with autism. Perhaps the best we can all do to help people with autism is to learn enough about them and their disability. Build a relationship – learn what they like or dislike – and accept them as for who they are.
Families who have a loved one with autism in their midst have shared the many challenges they face but they have also shared the incredible joy and love they have found through this experience. Sometimes it takes looking at this situation from a different vantage point but there is and will be reasons to celebrate, rejoice and continue to love this individual. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you learned a lot more about yourself? Could that be the gift given to you by this special relationship?
Enjoy the journey.