As a form of parenting, raising an autistic child certainly has its fair share of stress and challenges. For many parents and caregivers of autistic children, however, the perseverance and many sleepless nights involved in raising a child with autism are more than worth the time and energy. Here are just a few of the unique challenges that parents or caregivers of autistic children face, and how to prepare for an experience that is both life-changing and life-affirming in equal measure.
Expression of Emotions
As any parent or caregiver of an autistic child will tell you, one of the biggest challenges of raising a child with autism is dealing with the emotional outbursts that are part and parcel of the condition. Autistic children do not view the world in the same way that other children might, and they have a unique way of expressing their emotions. For example, an autistic child may be by turns withdrawn and overemotional within the span of one day, sometimes raising their voice at parents or caregivers or even running from home. This is typically caused by extreme levels of anxiety that can be mitigated with proper anxiety medication, weighted blankets, and visits with a child therapist to help them understand their personal anxiety triggers and how to express themselves in a healthy way. Much of the frustration that autistic children have comes from the inability to properly communicate their thoughts, making counseling in this regard extremely helpful both in their emotional health and their development of communicative skills.
Disconnection to Reality
While your child may be loud and angry at times, there will be other times when they’re spacey and distant, lost in their own world even to the point that they’ll sometimes just wander off without even really thinking about it and get lost. If your child has shown any kind of wandering behavior (also called “elopement”), it is important to contact local locksmiths to ensure that your home has an adequate security system in place to prevent your child from leaving home on their own. Having a smart home system will allow you to receive alerts when your doors or windows have been opened or closed, which will help you be aware if your child is leaving the house unsupervised or without your previous knowledge. Other parents have been known to use tracking bracelets or devices to help them monitor the location of their child, which is especially helpful when they are at a neighbor’s house and wander from there.
In addition to emotionally expressing themselves in non-neurotypical ways, autistic children may also have difficulty grasping concepts of interpersonal boundaries with regard to adults or other children. An autistic child experiencing sensory overload may respond by hitting or biting a parent or caregiver, for example. In these situations, it is important for parents and caregivers to understand that the autistic child does not grasp the consequences of their behavior or how they are affecting those closest to them, especially when they are entirely overwhelmed by external stimuli.
If your child becomes overwhelmed easily, try using ambient lighting or weighted blankets to help reduce their feelings of anxiety. Things like harsh reflected light on white walls, bright and uneven light, and even the nearly imperceptible hum of electrical devices can trigger sensory overloads, making it essential that you speak with a psychiatrist about proper anxiety treatments if they are having frequent meltdowns.
For even the most dedicated parents, raising an autistic child will at some point lead to feelings of emotional burnout. Despite loving their child, and despite receiving love in return from their child, parents in the throes of emotional burnout will often worry that they no longer care about their child’s wellbeing or that they are not cut out to be a caregiver for their child. These moments of self-doubt are extremely normal, and it is vital that parents or caregivers schedule time each week to relax and let go of stress. If you’re experiencing burnout, know that it is an extremely normal response to caregiving for an autistic child, and it is not a reflection on your character.
Impact on Personal Relationships
Dealing with interpersonal relationships as the parent or caregiver of an autistic child can also be a serious challenge. Other parents may not understand why the autistic child has difficulty expressing themselves, for example, and traditional gatherings such as birthday parties for schoolmates can feel awkward at times. These can be great moments for you to speak with friends and other parents about how autistic children have a unique view of the world, and that with those views come equally unique challenges for parents.
Sitting down with your child and discussing how an interaction went, what they noticed about it, and what is commonly expected in such interactions can also prove to be valuable learning experiences for your child. Because they are often overwhelmed with other stimuli, both internal and external, autistic children have a harder time learning social cues simply by exposure alone like other children do, so speaking about it out loud can greatly improve their social growth. Teaching other adults that your child interacts with how to have these conversations in a respectful and encouraging manner can also help their ability to understand your child’s unique struggle and be more understanding in the future.
For these reasons, raising an autistic child can be a uniquely challenging experience. While you’ll experience great moments of intelligence shown by your child, it is also important to be prepared for the problematic symptoms of autism. While the idea that your child could grow into a successful and even independent adult may seem like an impossible dream during the hard times, with the right professional help and a lot of hard-earned patience, you can help your child achieve their own maximum level of functionality that will surprise them and you.