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Autism: A Family Disorder
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Families of children with autism spectrum disorders confront a wide range of challenges. Raising a child on the autism
spectrum is difficult, both for children mildly or severely affected. Autism’s influence on the family may be unbearably
exhausting, isolating and troublesome. Parents often need counseling to help cope with the autism diagnosis. Comments such
as, ‘which side of the family does it come from?’ only make the situation worse. One parent may need to become a stay at
home parent for a time to meet all the needs of the child with autism. Reducing the family income can affect every aspect of
family living.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a supporting circle of friends. Sadly, some friends or people in the community may
label the child as being ‘disorderly’ or may advise you show the child some discipline. Unfortunately, this may cause the
parents to distant themselves as they feel accountable and uncomfortable when their autistic child misbehaves. It's common for
siblings of a child with autism to feel humiliated by their autistic brother or sister's behavior in public, or to be hesitant to invite
friends home. Often due to society’s ignorance, some families affected by autism disconnect themselves from their
community. It becomes easier to deal with autistic behaviors and communication difficulties at home, rather than out in the

The Family’s Social Life

Some parents with autistic children may notice that invitations to social gatherings cease. Friends without children, or who have
children without special needs, may feel uncomfortable around a person with autism. They often cannot embrace individuals
with language delays and social and behavioral difficulties. Some people do not want their typical children playing with an
autistic child, as if the disorder might be contagious.

A child with autism may be withdrawn, frequently playing alone, and may be inappropriate in their play and conduct. Autistic
children sometimes make strange noises or engage in repetitive behaviors that can be frightening to other children and adults not
used to being around someone with additional needs. Some children with autism may have sensitivities to certain foods, eat
special diets to lessen their symptoms, or have strange eating habits this makes it difficult for the family to accept dinner
invitations. Many children with autism may have altered sleep patterns and be particularly devoted to doing things a certain way.

Family Outings

Transitions are usually difficult for a child with autism making family outings sometimes impossible, especially in the early days
before intervention sessions. Transitions include any change in present actions or environment. Simple tasks, such as
interrupting playtime to eat a meal, can cause distress for a person with autism. Distress can cause the child with autism to act
out physically and/or verbally. These are the natural reactions to various stimuli. Natural if you have autism that is. Of course,
these behaviors are not only embarrassing for the parent, but also stressful when trying to prevent the child from doing physical
damage or self-injury. Careful planning usually makes changes in routine bearable so spur of the moment outings may become
possible. Autistic behaviors may prevent families from attending events together. For example one parent stays home with the
child due to lack of a qualified caregiver in their absence.


Interventions will require frequent parental involvement with the school and the autistic child's classroom. Some families have a
difficult time getting their insurance plans to cover specific treatments.  There may be a team of therapists coming into the
home on a daily basis which puts additional pressure on the family.  These visits involve a combination of speech-language,
occupational and physical therapy services.  The entire family may need to change their diet to help the child with autism. It isn’
t just the parents teaching the child, either. Siblings become involved in the teaching. The correct professional support is vital,
but the support of loving friends and family is what makes achieving this possible. Without the support of friends and family,
the world of autism can be a very lonely place. Not only for the child with autism but for the entire family.