Parents with autistic children may find it difficult to manage the mental pressure that can sometimes be too overwhelming. Here’s how to deal with it.

A woman, in a fit of rage, ended up strangling her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter to death in an Indian city. The reason? The little girl was severely autistic, and the mother was herself dealing with depression that stemmed from raising two autistic daughters single-handedly. While this may be an extreme case, one cannot ignore that parents of children with autism face a different set of mental health challenges in day-to-day life. There is greater emphasis on caregiving to ensure their healthy development of the child. And it is inevitable that overtime, it may affect the caregiver’s mental health. Know how having an autistic child can affect mental health, and what you can do to manage its consequences.

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism is a group of neurodevelopmental conditions, which is “characterized by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication,” according to the World Health Organization. It generally becomes evident during early childhood. Many factors can cause autism, including genetics, low birth weight, metabolic imbalances, viral infections, being born to older patients, toxins and certain medications.

Also Read: Look for these signs to know if your child has autism

woman with a child with autism
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that generally affects children. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Parental stress and autism: How does it affect a parent’s mental health?

Parents who have children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were found to be at a higher risk of stress, anxiety, and depression, according to a 2022 study published in the journal Global Mental Health. Having an autistic child can affect parents in various ways. Parents can feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, afraid, and guilty for not being able to meet the requirements of their child. Here’s how having a child with autism affects parents mentally:

1. Feeling stressed

“Parents with autistic children often feel stressed about the future of their autistic child, wondering if they will be able accepted by others or live independently on their own. The fear of your child being bullied or rejected by classmates, family members, and relatives. Creating a balance between work and parenting while ensuring that they spend more time with their child can be stressful and take a toll on the mental health of the child,” says psychiatrist Dr Sonal Anand of Wockhardt Hospitals.

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Having an autistic child can affect the entire family, especially the parents as they have to manage and understand the unique needs of their child resulting in extreme stress. Stress can create havoc affecting their daily lives. A study published in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing found that parents of children with ASD experienced higher levels of stress than parents who did not.

Also Read: Here’s how to manage autism spectrum disorder

2. Inability to understand the changing behaviour

Dr Anand says you have to be on an alert and notice your child and his or her behaviour to spot any abnormalities or discomfort to avoid health complications. This can create feelings of frustration for both the child and the parents, which in turn will also contribute to the stress.

3. Getting overwhelmed

Moreover, parents may have to juggle a lot in handling various responsibilities such as reaching medical appointments on time, not missing certain medications, manage multiple therapies, all while trying to maintain a stable routine at home. This can make the parents feel like they have too much to handle, resulting in being overwhelmed.

4. Lack of communication

Communication becomes the major drawback when it comes to raising a child with autism. The autistic child might struggle to express their daily needs, wants, or feelings. This can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and agitation for both the child and the parents. Not understanding why your child is upset or what they need can be upsetting and often make them doubt their parenting. As a parent, you start to lose connection with the outer world and start avoiding social gatherings or events to devote an ample amount of time to your child.

Tips for parents to handle the mental pressure

While parenting stress and autism is something that happens often it is important to know how to deal with it to avoid problems and secure your relationship with your child, as suggested by the expert.

1. Accept support

When your friends and family offer help, accept it immediately without thinking too much. Take support from friends and family to avoid complications. These helping hands can ease your daily responsibilities and reduce chronic stress.

2. Hire help

Managing an autistic child and household chores can become overwhelming, leading to exhaustion. Consider hiring house help or a caregiver to give yourself a much-needed break, says the expert.

3. Stress-relieving techniques

It is natural to feel stressed if you are a parent of an autistic child, but certain things can help you relax. Practice stress-relieving techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga, to manage stress and stay calm, especially after a difficult situation.

4. Channel your emotions in the right direction

Enjoy your time with your child to the fullest. Instead of dwelling on the shortcomings, focus more and celebrate your child’s daily progress, no matter how small it is. This can help strengthen your bond and create a supportive environment for the child.

How to identify signs of autism early?
Communicating with an autistic child may be difficult but its important. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Consult an expert

It is normal to feel stressed and sometimes you need help to address these issues. It can happen to the best of us! Autism is one of those cases when reaching out to someone who can help you is mandatory. Talking to a professional will help you share your emotions and feelings with someone, which will help you deal with sadness and agitation.

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