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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 4 -- Holding Onto Family Traditions continued...

They've returned year after year. Gradually, they figured out what activities make Nat happy and content. "He likes to fill up a bucket and pour it out," she says. "He likes the ocean side, not the bay side, because he likes the waves crashing. He boogie boarded, and his brothers could do it with him."

Other trips, especially those involving airplanes, have not been as easy, Senator tells WebMD. "When we went to Colorado, we went on the Internet, and got lots of pictures about security [showing] how he would have to take off his shoes so he would know what to expect."

How to have a restful vacation? Senator says, "The key is to get down on paper what the issues are, the hardest things, and then try to think of a solution for each." For Nat on the Cape Cod vacations, she says, it was boredom on the beach -- until they observed what activities interested him and focused on those.

Going to big family parties can be stressful, says Kathleen Patrick. "When we go to a family event, we go early so he can get his bearings," she says. "It's easier for him to settle in when the crowd is not already there." Patrick and her husband Steve often decide to take two cars in case the event becomes too overwhelming for Adam.

When making restaurant reservations for her husband Dan and two daughters, Singer will ask for a booth, knowing that her daughter Jodie "bounces around" when sitting in a restaurant. "I ask for the booth against the wall," she says. That helps Jodie be free to bounce without disturbing other diners.

Autism and the Family: Issue 5 -- Maintaining a Social Life

Keeping up outside friendships -- as a couple and as a family -- is healthy. But getting through picnics and parties can be difficult with an autistic child. Many children with autism have trouble with social interactions and changes in routine. Still, parents find a way to cope.

Kathleen Patrick sometimes asks friends who invite them for a party if they have a spare bedroom with a television to which her son can retreat if the crowd gets to be too much.

With more awareness about autism and what it is, parents may expect friends and acquaintances to be accommodating to their autistic child's needs. Maybe not, says Wright. "People are more aware, but I am not sure they know what to do or how to support'' families dealing with it, she says.

Even with the awareness, people can stare when a child with autism displays what they consider odd behavior. "You get to the point where you get a thick skin," Senator says. "You don't care if people are staring at your kid."

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