Experts are getting better and better at diagnosing autism in children as young as two years old. Having an autistic child in the family creates a huge impact and changes the entire dynamic of the family and their lives. In fact, having any child who is disabled in some way changes the way the family communicates and adjusts to fit the needs of the child. According to Autism Speaks, the most recent statistics shows that 1 in 68 children are now being diagnosed with autism. Though the diagnosis is on the rise, a child is usually not diagnosed by a professional until they are over two years old.
Families who are coping with the diagnosis of an autistic child are, both stressed and face eye-opening discussions, all at the same time. Once parents realize that either their child or a sibling has autism, their life will be utterly different than they expected it to be. There will be many unique challenges in their day to day life that they will have never anticipated. Once the initial shock of the diagnosis of autism is over, family members go through an initial range of emotions. Some of these stages of emotions are commonly associated with grieving, knowing that their child isn't going to have the "normal" life that they may have anticipated for them.
Here are 15 ways having an autistic child will change the whole family and their dynamics.
15 It Rids All Family Members Of Ignorance About Autism
Autism makes people behave in certain ways that are not aligned with regular social norms, and can be perceived as "socially awkward" or "strange." If you have an immediate family member with autism, you become familiar with their quirks and understand that this is just the way they are wired. Other people, who are not so familiar, can find these behaviors off-putting or it can even make them uncomfortable to be around a person with autism.
When you see someone talking to themselves, repeating words and phrases over and over, or if someone just can't seem to stay on topic in a conversation, many people will just write that off as that person is being weird.
However, if you are someone who grew up with an autistic sibling or have an autistic child, then you know that person probably has some type of autism. It is almost like you can spot it from a mile away. While people who are ignorant of autism might believe that the person has control over that type of behavior, you know better than anyone that they most certainly do not.
You know how to shut down statements such as, "autism is just an excuse for bad behavior", "this kid is just lazy" or "leave him be and he will grow out of it." Those statements of denial are nothing more than ignorance.
14 The Parents Feel Guilty and Alone
According to TheAutismSite.com, parents of children with autism often feel lonely and isolated. This is because sensory issues and potential meltdowns can confine them inside the house for longer periods of time. Many times, babysitters and people who can just be hired to look after the autistic child aren't readily available for help. This makes many parents feel isolated and unable to connect with other people who understand the struggle that they are going through.
The most frustrating times are when there are moments that your child is having a meltdown and you have no idea what you can do to make the situation better. You can't leave them alone because you need to look after them, but you can't fix the problem because they don't know how to communicate. Then, you look at other parents with "normal" kids and feel like they cannot relate. (Telegraph UK)
Luckily, there are support groups out there for parents with ASD children and they can connect with one another. In these communities, they can meet other parents who "get it" and are in the exact same boat as they are. There are online communities that can connect them locally and gives them opportunities to talk and learn about things going on in a specific area.
13 Having An Autistic Child Can Cause Conflicts In The Marriage
A study in the Journal of Family Psychology states that parents of autistic children had a 9.7 percent chance of getting divorced than did their peers. Having an ASD child can cause a number of different marital stressors. These can include, the lack of spending time together because of commitments and inconsistent schedules, the challenges of finding childcare for autistic children, and the financial stress it can cause.
Many parents accept their child's autism diagnosis at different times and in different ways, which can also cause conflict.
In a study conducted by Sigan Hartley, the assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she concluded, "Typically, if couples can survive the early child-rearing years, parenting demands decrease and there is often less strain on the marriage. However, parents of children with autism often continue to live with and experience high parenting demands into their child's adulthood, and thus marital strain may remain high in these later years."
Children with autism require frequent and high levels of care, but some of them need that same level of care even as adults. This can require day-to-day support from their parents, which can cause strains on marriages.
12 Siblings Without Autism Have To Grow Up Faster Than Average
This is especially true if the siblings are older than the child with autism. Siblings of kids with autism have to mature quicker than the average child and arguably too quickly than should be required. The household can get chaotic and who find themselves in positions of leadership and having to take responsibility. They find themselves having to defend their autistic sibling when they are being bullied in school and have to guide them in the right direction.
They are also forced into uncomfortable situations in public for when their sibling is acting on their autistic tendencies, it makes the whole family stand out.
This, of course, depends on where their sibling stands on the ASD spectrum. According to Autism Speaks, venturing into society with someone who does not necessarily conform or can have unfiltered reactions, means there will be moments when the entire family stands out, whether they like it or not. Siblings of autistic children are not easily swayed by the crowd.
Siblings of autistic children also find themselves having to explain to their friends, peers and even older adults as to why their sibling is acting the way they are. They understand that not everyone understands their disability to the fullest extent that they do.
11 Siblings Can Often Feel Like Their Problems Are Minimized
Though the sibling loves their brother or sister with special needs, they can often become resentful. This is because their parent's time and care are often more invested in the child with special needs, while the needs of the other siblings tend to go on the back burner. Since their autistic sibling is the one who is more unable to cope with everyday stressors of being in social situations, that means that they need to be more emotionally adjusted.
Therefore, they feel like they need to be the stronger one and shouldn't complain about things that might be bothering them to their parents. Oftentimes, the response they will get from their parents is that "well, you don't have it as bad as your brother (or sister)". This means that they have to remain silent and simply internalize their feelings.
Since autistic children can struggle with how to deal with everyday routine things, this means that their siblings feel like they can't pose more of a burden to their parents. It can make them feel like they can't bring their problems into the family life because it will just make the situation worse. Siblings of autistic children can struggle with anxiety and depression.
10 Older Siblings Feel The Pressure To Be Perfect
Having a sibling with autism or special needs can pose a huge burden because they are often pressured to take on the parental role when their actual parents are not around. When you are developing and growing up yourself, you don't always have a sense of right and wrong, or how to care for someone who depends on you. When you are expected to help your sibling with special needs. Worst of all, you learn from an early age what it is like to be a caregiver. Sometimes you hear the words that you will be the one to care for your sibling when your parents are no longer able to do so.
This can create an enormous amount of pressure for the sibling without autism.
Not only do you have to grow up faster than most of your peers, but you are taking on a role that you did not sign up for. As siblings of kids with special needs see how hard their parents work in order to meet their sibling's needs, they feel like they cannot make any mistakes themselves. Since having needs themselves will just add to their parent's burden, they feel like they need to be the perfect sibling. This type of standard that they set for themselves can lead to stress and feelings of inadequacy, according to the Washington Post.
9 Autism Can Impose a Financial Burden
I remember from personal experience that my parents struggled with our school district trying to find proper education for my brother with Asperger's. Since public schools are expected to pay for special education, often there are not enough resources for specific types of autism because it varies greatly on the spectrum. Back in the early '90s, autism wasn't as heavily diagnosed as it is now, so smaller school districts didn't have teachers that were specialized to help kids with these types of disabilities.
Furthermore, there are many financial burdens that many families have to face when it comes to autism treatment and therapies. These types of services are not covered by their private health insurance companies. According to Psych Central, the copays parents incur for medications and office visits often lead to a massive financial debt. According to a study featured in Pediatrics, families with an autistic child underwent an average loss of 14 percent in their entire family income.
Since having a child with special needs requires a certain amount of time investment, having two parents who work full time can also be a struggle. The family often has to increase their expenses, despite having a lower family income if one parent has to cut back on work to take care of the autistic child.
8 There Are Moments Of Frustration And Embarrassment
Autism can cause someone to act out in erratic ways because they are socially impaired. This can sometimes cause embarrassment to family members when they are out in public or in certain social settings.
Teens with autism can have certain quirks or interests about them that are that of those of children who are much younger than they are.
A mother with an autistic son wrote an article in the Washington Post, confessing that sometimes her 15-year-old teenage son embarrasses her. She tells the story of how she had two men come in to install new countertops and her son comes into the living room and turns on the TV to watch Sesame Street.
"Since he was little, one of his favorite things is to find out what the number and letter of the day are from Sesame Street. He loves it. And as sentimental as he is, I’m sure that part of what he loves is that it reminds him of being little. But he’s not little. He’s 15. He’s got a thin little mustache. He’s got hairy legs. He’s taller than I am. And the workers in our kitchen could see this 15-year-old man-child watching Sesame Street with a huge grin on his face. And I was embarrassed. I felt the need to explain to them that he has autism and that this is one of his favorite things to do in the morning."
7 You Can Feel Like You Are Walking On Eggshells
People with autism, even later into their adult years, have unusual reactions to sensory stimulation. Children with autism are sensitive to light, sound, and perceive it much differently than the rest of us do. Conversely, it can also mean that they have no sensitivity or reaction altogether. This can mean that certain noises, or adjustments in light, can set them off or disturb them. It can also mean that being around crowded places will cause a breakdown or make them uncomfortable.
Children with autism can have unusual responses to regular noises that are not particularly loud, according to Everyday Health. This is why you will see many of them covering their ears or saying that their ears are hurting. Physical contact of any kind could make them uneasy like shaking hands or hugs. Their tolerance for pain can be much higher or much lower than average. Since all of these sensory issues can manifest much differently, it is important to be aware of the child's individualized needs.
Sometimes, family members can feel like they are walking on eggshells because the littlest thing they can do, like turning on a TV or playing music in the background, can set them off.
6 You Start To See The World Through A Different Lens
Having an autistic member of the family means that you grow up alongside someone who sees the world in a unique, individual way, that is much different from any mainstream population, according to Autism Speaks. Growing up with a brother with Aspergers, I realized what a concrete thinker he really was. If you think of Spock from Star Trek, he was almost a Vulcan in my eyes. Though he was highly intelligent in his narrow sets of interests, he had a hard time understanding human emotions. This was both a good and a bad thing because many everyday stressors, that get many people down, just didn't seem to phase him. However, it did also impair his ability to relate to people and a find common ground with them.
Siblings of autistic kids can get outside of their own heads and put themselves in a different mentality than their own.
You learn early on, from living with someone who doesn't behave in a "normal" way, that not everything is black and white. You watch them face ridicule and can't help but admire their courage because they have no other choice. Having someone in your family with autism means that you have to see from a perspective that is so far outside your own.
5 You Have A Different Idea Of Family And Home
People with autism have a hard time processing social cues, so they can become confused by the emotional reactions that it might be causing for their family members. They might have a hard time responding to touches of affection such as hugs, or touches on their shoulders. In fact, it can make them flat out uncomfortable.
Since many children with autism only tend to bond with immediate family members, they become more dependent on them later in their adult years. Since those with ASD have difficult times forming friendships with their peers, the relationships that they have with their families is even more crucial in their lives.
Only those who live with an autistic child on a day to day basis know how to communicate with that individual. My brother with Aspergers gave me, my brother and sister a crash course on how to interact with someone with autism. My other two siblings and I often felt like we were the only ones our age that knew how to read our brother's quirks and body language cues. While this threw most people off guard, we knew what he wanted when he wanted it. His unusual behavior didn't phase us because it was just something that we were used to.
4 You Learn To Deal With Intolerance Early And Often
Families who have children with special needs learn right away that there is no universal acceptance for these individuals, sadly. Siblings learn that their brother or sister is not welcome everywhere that they are. They learn that they have to act as the role of the protector when their sibling is being bullied or given a hard time by their peers. This can be deeply disappointed to the "normal" siblings who just want to bond with their ASD sibling, but realize that they can't enjoy those experiences. Sometimes, you are just better off leaving their sibling at home while they attend social events without them.
Everyday things, like going to a supermarket or public events, can cause sensory issues for the autistic child and they fear that they might act out.
Early lessons of intolerance (and sometimes even hate) affects the way some families look at the world, according to the Washington Post. It opens up your eyes and makes you realize that many people are not fully educated about individuals with certain disabilities, like autism or Asperger's syndrome. On a positive note, it allows you to keep an open mind when you encounter other individuals with certain disabilities outside of your own family.
3 There Might Be Feelings Of Isolation
The siblings who are growing up with an autistic sibling can feel lonely at times because they don't have peers who have any siblings with special needs. They feel like they stick out among the crowd when their peers ask "what is wrong with your brother (or sister)?" Depending on the severity of where their sibling falls on the ASD spectrum, they might feel wary about bringing friends over to their house because they are unsure about how their sibling will act around them. The feeling of isolation sets in when they don't think that there is anyone who can relate to their situation of living with an autistic sibling.
Parents can also feel isolated if they don't know any other parents with autistic children. They see parents of "normal" kids going to school and engaging in sports, and they are saddened by the fact that their child might not enjoy a "normal" childhood. Comparing your family to other families will cause you and your children to feel alone. The understanding that no family is ever really "normal" and reaching out to others in the community of families with ASD children will connect you with others. Parents and siblings of children with ASD shouldn't have to feel like they are alone in their struggles.
2 You Become Familiar With The Whole Autism Spectrum
People with autism, Asperger's or anywhere on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spectrum, have completely different varying levels of their ability to function in mainstream society. There are people with High Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger's, who go on to complete educations and hold down jobs just like the rest of us. There are, however, those that suffer from more severe forms of autism, to the point that they are cannot verbalize their communication.
Autism is said to be a developmental disorder because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life, according to Nimh.nih.gov.
People with ASD all have these characteristics in common: difficulty with communication and interaction with other people, restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, symptoms that can hurt their ability to function properly at school, work and other areas of life.
It is called a "spectrum" disorder because there is such wide variation. There is no one size fits all when it comes to figuring out what the proper treatment or therapy is for the individual with autism. According to Autism Speaks, the disorders in the ASD include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome. Some of those with ASD also vary greatly in terms of intelligence, with some being exceptionally higher or lower than average.
1 Relief: Autistic People Are Still Capable Of Achieving Great Things!
Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music, and academic skills. In fact, about 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities, according to Autism Speaks. Sometimes, their "atypical" ways of viewing the world can work as a strength for them and they can excel in certain fields. Their strengths can include: being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time, being strong visual and auditory learners, and excelling in math, science, music or art.
There are some people with autism that are able to live independently on their own and some that cannot. Family members are relieved if they realize that some of those with autism are able to achieve huge life milestones, like getting their associates or bachelors degree, getting a full-time job in a field that they excel in, and just living an everyday normal life like the rest of us.
Though there are challenges and obstacles that people on the spectrum have to overcome throughout their life, many are still able to lead functional lives. It all depends on how they are taught to cope with their disability and the support of family members.