Autism and Family Relationships
Having a child with autism affects the entire family. Here's how to anticipate 5 common family issues, cope with them, and thrive.
Autism and the Family: Issue 1 -- Adjusting Parental Expectations continued...
"It's not what you thought your life would be like," says Kathleen Patrick.
Patrick is vice president of services for Easter Seals New Jersey. Her son,
Adam Martin, 11, has an autism
spectrum disorder known as pervasive developmental disorder -- not
otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Her other son, Mark Martin, 9, is developing
Patrick took solace from an essay titled "Welcome to Holland" written by
Emily Perl Kingsley, a mother of a disabled child. Kingsley compares the
experience of finding out a child is disabled to planning a vacation trip to
Italy, then finding out you're actually going to Holland.
It's not horrible, just different, Kingsley writes. She suggests that if you
spend your life mourning the lost trip to Italy you will never enjoy the
special qualities of Holland. After you're there a bit, she says, you notice
the charm --tulips, windmills, Rembrandts.
Autism and the Family: Issue 2 -- Worrying About the Siblings of Autistic Children
Whether the child with autism is the first-born, in the middle, or the baby,
parents often worry about the effect that dealing with the autism -- and the
time commitment it involves -- will have on the other children. "I think most
parents bend over backward so it doesn't affect the other children," says
In a recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental
Disorders, researchers compared siblings of autistic children with siblings
of non-disabled children and found those with the autistic sibling were
actually better adjusted psychosocially and emotionally. They did find,
however, that it's more difficult for the non-disabled child to cope with the
autistic sibling if multiple risk factors such as low income are present.
Exactly why the siblings of autistic children scored better isn't known.
Wright says they may have a higher level of maturity from observing and being
involved in the care of a child with autism. "The message is," Wright tells
WebMD, "lots of siblings are doing OK."
Still, it's a good idea to be sure the other children get one-on-one time
with each parent, McCarton says. Many parents divide up the children. For
example, the mother may take over a behavioral therapy session for the child
with autism one day, and the father will take the other children out for a
movie. Then they'll switch roles the next time.