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 3 -- Tending to the Marriage
Dealing with a diagnosis of autism puts a strain on any marriage. Men and
women tend to react to the news differently, according to McCarton, and that
can add to the stress.
"Women are profoundly sad. But they hit the ground running," McCarton says,
referring to the typical reaction women have on hearing the diagnosis. "They
mobilize. Men often retreat into work." Also, men often question the diagnosis
or deny it.
"When the couple reacts differently," McCarton says, "that's the first crack
in the marriage. There is no one with whom [the woman] can share her grief.''
She says not all couples follow this pattern, of course, but she has observed
many that do.
The solution is to make time for each other, which is more easily said than
done. Families are already time-strapped dealing with behavioral therapists,
many doctor appointments, and above-average financial stress. Even so, experts
say, couples have to feed the relationship -- even if it's watching a video
together or talking after the kids are asleep.
It's also crucial to steal solo time just for yourself, McCarton tells
parents. She asks them: "What were the things you loved before?" When parents
protest they have no time or money to indulge themselves, she says: "It doesn't
have to be expensive or take up hours of the day. It can be going to Starbucks
and having a cup of coffee by yourself for half an hour. It can be taking a
shower for 15 minutes."
It's also important to talk about the autism and what your goals are for
your child. Susan Senator says her husband, Ned Batchelder, seemed at first to
let her handle everything when their son Nat was diagnosed with autism at age
3. Then she started going to a support group and bringing home stories of
others from the group. "That was a bridge," she says. "He realized he wasn't
alone, and that got him to talk about his feelings."
Autism and the Family: Issue 4 -- Holding Onto Family Traditions
Family rituals such as vacations, taken for granted before, can become
challenging or seemingly impossible for families with an autistic child.
Many people deal with those challenges by opting out, according McCarton,
which, she says, is a mistake. She says it's important to think through what
can be done to make the child with autism -- who can become extremely upset by
changes in routine that come with vacations -- more comfortable on a trip. A
loving extended family, for instance, may rent a big beach house together,
where everyone is free to pursue their Interests.
Senator and her husband take their three boys to Cape Cod every year, an
easy drive from their home. "They became familiar with it,'' she says. "You
only have a few choices of what to do, and a routine was established. My
parents have a house near where we rent, and they can babysit."