- Autism comes with learning and social difficulties—often, these individuals have difficulty focusing and struggle to connect or interact meaningfully with others.
- While many are aware of the struggles that these individuals face, the obstacles that are presented to family members often go unnoticed or undiscussed.
- So, how are family members affected? First, they often have to make major adjustments to their schedule and overall lifestyle.
- Also, siblings in specific can suffer—they might feel like they aren’t as important or given as much attention as their sibling with autism.
- Parenting techniques often transform as well: parents will see that techniques they used with a previous child prove ineffective for their child with autism and have to adapt.
- Finally, family members can suffer from financial strain, being that expenses for autism treatment are often expensive, as well as loneliness, due to the time dedicated to caring for the child.
- It’s important to remember that counseling is effective and can help individuals with autism as well as their families who may be facing their own challenges.
Autism is characterized by learning and social deficiencies. These individuals are affected in their everyday, as they often have trouble focusing, engage in compulsive behavior or repetitive movements, and ultimately struggle to connect or interact with others. The good news is that there is effective treatment for people with autism: counseling can help these individuals to develop new life skills, improve communication, and cope with sensory information (like sounds and smells) that are bothersome.
What often goes undiscussed are the family members involved—specifically, how autism affects their lives. Fortunately, counseling can help these individuals too, which is important to keep in mind. But, let’s acknowledge all of the challenges that these individuals bravely face and learn to manage or overcome:
1. Lifestyle and Schedule
Autism can demand a shift in schedule and overall lifestyle, as individuals with autism often have unique needs that need to be prioritized. LaQuista Erinna, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explains that while making this shift can be difficult, it proves important: “As a mental health professional, I was caught off guard with my son’s autism diagnosis. Our family took the proper precautions of early intervention services when our two-year-old was delayed in speech. Still, nothing prepared us for the official diagnosis. We had to completely shift our schedules and lifestyle to ensure our son, now three years old, got the proper service and support. As a military family, it’s difficult at times to keep a consistent schedule for him. Consistency and structure are important for our son’s success. After removing our own feelings surrounding the diagnosis and recognizing we need to focus on our soon, he has experienced great success.”
2. Sibling Dynamics
While the entire family is affected in some way, those that often go unrecognized are the siblings. “This condition can impact families in so many ways. One that is less recognized though is the impact that the condition can have on a sibling,” Diana Fitts, Occupational Therapist specializing in autism, explains. “The sibling to a child with autism can often feel like they’re always taking a backseat. Life can revolve around therapy appointments, avoiding meltdowns, and accommodating treatment needs. Extra time and attention need to be placed on spending quality time with the sibling so that they don’t feel overshadowed by their sibling with autism.”
3. Parenting Techniques
An autism diagnosis can also cause parents to question or completely change their parenting techniques—as children with autism have special needs that other children do not. “For those that are second time parents there may be a huge learning curve as the techniques they’ve utilized to parent their neurotypical child may not work for their child that has an autism diagnosis. This can at times leave families feeling hopeless and looking externally for support,” explains Nandi Nelson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. That said, parents can learn to thrive in caring for their child with autism. Once they discover the techniques that work best, they feel prideful and accomplished to see their son or daughter succeeding in life.
4. Financial Strain and Loneliness
Furthermore, family members might suffer from financial strain, due to the often-costly expenses for treatment, as well as feelings of loneliness caused by social isolation. “There is also a financial strain due to the fact that expenses for autism treatment, schooling, or therapy are often not covered by private health insurance and can take a toll on the family as a whole,” says Adina Mahalli, Master Social Worker. “In addition to this, members of families affected by autism often experience social isolation and feel alone in the struggle that comes with dealing with a child with special needs on a daily basis, both from the perspective of the parents and the siblings.” This makes self-care incredibly important, of which can involve spending time engaging in activities family members enjoy (either individually or as a group) and/or seeking therapy.
If you or a loved one could benefit from counseling, due to autism—whether you or a family member is the one with the diagnosis—reach out to Thriveworks. We have skilled, caring counselors and therapists who are eager to help you live a happier, healthier life.