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The Challenges of Raising a Child With Autism

Raising an autistic child is a long journey, but parents have many options and places to turn for help.

Finding Support for Parents and Siblings

Dealing with autism can place stress on couples as well as the child's siblings, according to experts.

"In the beginning, it's so consuming," Naseef says. But in time, "I think the marriages under the most strain are the ones that get put on the back burner. Nobody's paying attention to it and just dealing with the child's autism."

He urges couples to devote some time to their marriage. "It might be hard to get a babysitter, but people figure out ways to have an in-home date," he says, such as enjoying a quiet dinner and watching a video after the children have gone to bed.

"Take some breaks from talking about autism because it's not going to go away," he adds. "You're going to learn to deal with it over time. You're going to make progress, your child's going to make progress, but you need breaks."

Siblings often feel sidelined by the extensive needs of the child with autism. Furthermore, while some siblings can interact with a brother or sister who has autism, others grieve the loss of a "normal" playmate, Naseef says.

Networking with other parents and siblings can help families cope, he says. Support groups exist even for siblings. One resource: the Autism Society of America web site, which lists local chapters that offer support to families. 

The Rewards

Ayala's son Evan is now 11. With a full-time aide, he has mainstreamed into a public school fifth-grade class and participates in the school's program for gifted children. "Evan is a very bright boy. He is delightful. He is odd and quirky," Ayala says, "but he has a sense of humor and is a full participant in our family." 

Raising a child with autism will have its ups and downs, Wiseman says. "There are going to be times when you want to crawl back into bed and put the covers up over your head, and occasionally, you have to give in to that," she says.

"But you have to get right back up and get going. You have to always keep your eye on the prize, which is your child."

Reviewed on March 26, 2008
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