Parenting is stressful — even more so if you have a child with special needs. When a child receives an autism diagnosis, it affects the entire family.
As the caregiver, you can experience fatigue, stress and depression. You can best help your child by ensuring that you address your own physical and emotional needs.
Accessing therapy and special education services, as well as navigating various services and agencies, can be expensive and time consuming. These demands often leave little time to attend to your own needs and the needs of other family members. However, seeking out assistance from a mental health professional can help if you are experiencing worry or anxiety about the future, feelings of sadness or difficulty coping with the diagnosis. A mental health professional can also help with parenting strategies to handle challenging behaviors and help your child learn new skills.
Parents may also find themselves disagreeing over parenting strategies or which course of treatment to follow for their child. They may have limited time to focus on their relationship after a week packed with therapy and doctor appointments. It is common for caregivers to have difficulty balancing all of these demands. Again, seeking the assistance of a mental health professional can help you deal effectively with these issues.
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You may also find parent support groups to be helpful. These groups are frequently facilitated by a professional with knowledge about autism and can be a place to share concerns, get advice and build relationships with other parents who have similar feelings and experiences. The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of Miami offers a number of support groups for caregivers.
Social support is extremely important to well-being. However, many caregivers feel isolated from their friends and extended family for many reasons. They may not have the time to maintain these relationships. They may be worried about how their child will behave and that their parenting skills will be judged negatively.
As a family member or friend of a caregiver, your continued support is important. Be available to listen without offering advice. If you are able, arrange to babysit so that parents can have a night out or run errands. And remember to keep reaching out, even if your invitations aren’t always accepted. This lets loved ones know that you are thinking of them and that they’re not alone.
Jennifer Durocher, Ph.D., is clinical director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Miami.
How to Get Help
If you are caregiver to a child with autism, visit UMCard.org or call 305-284-6563 to learn more about available support services.