Autism and Parenting Stress. Parenting a child with autism is an extraordinary challenge.  Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.
Autism and Parenting Stress
Presently more parents are rearing children with autism than ever before. Parenting a child with autism is an extraordinary
challenge and can be extremely stressful understanding issues that contribute to parental pressure is of greatest importance. In
comparison to parents of typically developing children, parents raising children with disabilities experience more parenting stress
and have higher rates of depression. Even among parents raising children with disabilities, parents of children with autism report
significantly higher levels of stress.

The primary cause of these results may be that parenting stress is associated with the frequency and extent of the child’s
stereotypical behavior such as social phobia, compulsive behavior, and communication difficulties. Children with autism often
engage in unusual behaviors, have heightened sensory and transition difficulties. Presented the unique stresses and challenges
inherited in parenting a child with autism, maintaining a positive sense of parenting capability may be extremely difficult. Too
often parents are not advised through the complicated process of coming to terms with their child’s diagnosis.

Knowledge of the main deficits in autism (i.e., communication, social relating), characteristic stereotypes, origin of autism, and
effective intervention methods may also alleviate thoughts about parental competence. Stereotypic and compulsive behaviors
concern parents since they appear peculiar and interfere with functioning and learning. If a child has impairments in social skills,
such as the lack of appropriate play, stress may be increased for families. Children with autism often require constant structure
of their time, an unrealistic task to achieve in the home environment.

Autism Behaviors and Stress

In a recent study, mothers of children with autism reported more difficulty understanding their children’s behaviors than
mothers of typically developing children. An individual with autism may not express their basic wants or needs in a manner that
we would expect. Therefore, parents are left playing a guessing game. Is the child crying because he/she is thirsty, hungry, or
sick? When parents cannot determine their child's needs, both are left feeling frustrated. The child's frustration can lead to
aggressive or self-injurious behaviors that threaten their safety and the safety of other family members (e.g., siblings). Families
struggle with the additional challenges of getting their child to sleep through the night or eat a wider variety of foods. All of these
demands and behaviors are physically exhausting for families and emotionally draining.

For families of children on the autism spectrum meals can be a hassle. Scheduled dinner times may not be pleasant due to the
child's inability to sit appropriately for lengthen periods of time. Bedtime routines can be interrupted by difficulties sleeping.
Autistic behaviors may prevent families from attending events together. For example, Mom might have to stay home while Dad
takes the sibling to his/her soft ball game. Not being able to do things as a family can impact the marital relationship. In addition,
spouses often cannot spend time alone due to the extreme parenting obligations and the lack of qualified caregivers to watch a
child with autism.

Concerns over Future Care-giving

One of the most significant sources of stress is the concern regarding future care-giving. Parents know that they provide their
child with exceptional care; they fear that no one will take care of their child like they do. There may also be no other family
members willing or capable of accomplishing this task. Even though parents try to put off thinking about the future, these
thoughts and worries are still constantly present.

Feelings of Isolation from Society

Taking an individual with autism out into the community can be a cause of stress for parents. People may stare, make comments
or fail to understand any mishaps or behaviors that may occur. For example, individuals with autism have been seen taking a
stranger's food right off his/her plate. As a result of these potential experiences, families often feel uncomfortable taking their
child to the homes of friends or relatives. This makes holidays a particularly difficult time for these families. Feeling like they
cannot socialize or relate to others, parents of children with autism may experience a sense of isolation from their friends,
relatives and community.

Feelings of Grief

Parents of children with autism are grieving the loss of the "typical" child that they expected to have. In addition, parents are
grieving the loss of lifestyle that they expected for themselves and their family. The feelings of grief that parents experience can
be an additional cause of stress due to its ongoing nature. Current theories of grief suggest that parents of children with
developmental disabilities experience episodes of grief throughout the life cycle as different events (e.g., birthdays, holidays, and
unending care-giving) trigger grief reactions. Experiencing persistent sorrow is a psychological stressor that can be frustrating,
confusing and depressing.


Having a child with autism can exhaust a family's resources due to expenses such as evaluations, home programs, and various
therapies. The care-giving demands of raising a child with autism may lead one parent to give up his or her job, making financial
strains more intense by only having one income to support all of the family’s needs.

Take Time for Yourself and Other Family Members

In order to avoid distress, parents must make time for themselves. Parents often respond to this suggestion by saying that they
don't have any available time. Parents, just like individuals with autism, need rewards in order to be motivated. Parents who have
children with autism have even more of a need to reward themselves because parenting their child can be frustrating and

In addition to rewarding themselves, family members need to reward one another. Spouses need to acknowledge the hard work
that each is achieving. Also, remember to thank siblings for watching or helping out their brothers and sisters. It is also
important that spouses try to spend some time alone. Again, the quantity of time is not as important as the quality. This may
include watching television together when the children are asleep, going out to dinner, or meeting for lunch when the children are
in school.

Families may also want to occasionally engage in activities without the individual with autism. This may include mom, dad and
the siblings going to the movies together. Often families feel guilty not including the individual with autism, but everyone
deserves to enjoy time together that is not threatened by the burdens of autism.

Meet Other Families with an Autistic Children

It gives us comfort to know that we are not the only ones experiencing a stressful situation. In addition, one can get the most
useful advice from others facing similar challenges and using similar services and supports. Support groups for parents, siblings
and grandparents are available through educational programs, parent resource centers, local Autism Society of America chapters
and Developmental Disabilities Offices. In addition, there are now online supports available for family members.

Helpful Strategies

•        Set realistic goals and appropriate responsibility.

•        Break large tasks into small ones.

•        Confide in someone instead of being alone and reserved.

•        Participate in activities that may make you feel better like exercise or a movie.

•        Expect your mood to improve gradually.

•        Postpone important decisions until the stress has subsided.

•        Accept help from your spouse, family and friends.
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