Stress is a normal part of our lives, and many parents feel stressed. While many families feel stress while raising their children, families with children with autism spectrum disorder might experience more stress than any other families.
This might happen because:
- It's hard to manage daily life with an autistic child
- They are coming to terms with an autism diagnosis
- Having trouble managing problematic behavior
- They are not sure how to help their autistic child
- Need a break from their autistic child
An autism diagnosis affects the whole family—and parents of children with autism might get stressed about different things and respond in different ways. Some stress levels are okay since they motivate you to focus on facing challenges. However, too much stress can be overwhelming and make it difficult to cope with everyday life.
A day in the life of a parent of a child with autism can include many challenges and stress factors. A parent might help their children with sensory overload, advocate for their needs, or deal with a public tantrum. The caregiver might even be deprived of rest if the child cannot sleep.
However, an autism diagnosis doesn't mean the end of the world. You are not doomed to a life filled with stress, and you can get support to actively solve the challenges. Dealing with the reality of the situation might take a while.
Some parents mourn the loss of the hopes and dreams they had for their child, but it's important to realize that autistic children can bring many unique joys. Celebrating every accomplishment, loving unconditionally, and putting in the consistent effort can make a difference.
This article explores strategies for managing stressful situations while caring for an autistic child.
Types of Stress
There are four types of stress parents of children with autism might experience:
- Psychological stress: The physical demands of meeting the needs of a child with autism can be tremendous. Parents who do not disengage from caring for their mental health and don’t learn healthy coping strategies will likely suffer from stress.
- Physical stress: Chronic stress can make parents more vulnerable and develop immune systems and gastrointestinal issues. They might also suffer from increased fatigue or insomnia.
- Social stress: Many people are uneducated about autism spectrum disorder, so they might blame the parents for their child’s behaviors. This might lead to parents feeling socially isolated and might even lead to marital stress.
- Financial stress: Studies have shown that parents of autistic children earn less money or work fewer hours. They also face additional expenses such as therapy or medical expenses.
Signs of Stress
Parents might not always recognize stress symptoms, so they must know what to look out for. While each person is different, there might be similarities. Stress can be detected in the body, mind, and mood. Recognizing these symptoms can prevent more significant health problems—catching them early is very important.
- Chest pain
- Sleep difficulties
- Feelings of fatigue
- Muscle aches
- Upset stomach
Mind and mood:
- Anxiety and worry
- Becoming agitated or angered easily
- Lack of motivation
- Being pessimistic
- Sadness or depression
- Inability to focus
- Smoking cigarettes
- Changes in appetite
- Increased fidgeting
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Social withdrawal
Strategies for Dealing with Stress
Start with Some Small Changes
Starting with some simple changes can make a big difference. This can translate into ensuring you get enough sleep at night or exercise regularly. You can slow down and ask friends or family to help if you can't manage these tasks. Caring for yourself can have immediate positive effects.
Stay in Reality
Parents can become anxious if they focus too much on how their child is developing; this way, they might become apprehensive about future challenges. If you find yourself stressed, think about whether you're focused on reality or "What ifs."
Relax Outside of Work
For many parents, work is a place where they can find a break from caring for their autistic child. However, it would be ideal to find ways to relax outside of work, where you can focus on your emotional and physical health.
Consistently taking care of yourself physically and emotionally will have positive impacts. It's crucial to make time for personal growth; before you take care of your child's needs, take care of yours.
Maybe these fidget toys can be of help:
Find Professional Help
Regular therapy or counseling can help parents deal with stress. If that's not an option, you can engage in different services. Make an appointment with your doctor to ensure your physical health is good. There are also various support groups for parents of autistic children. These groups will make you feel connected and heard.
In addition, every human needs to talk to someone. Call your best friend or a trusted family member and share your feelings.
Embrace Your Emotions
After you receive an autism diagnosis, you might experience sadness. By allowing yourself to feel these emotions, you will grow as a person and build compassion and acceptance. Ignoring reality will lead to anger that will be directed toward the wrong person. You need to realize that those around you might feel the same and that you should support each other instead.