Parents all over the world feel the stress of having a child with autism. This letter is from a parent in the UK and was first published in The Autism File.
My husband and I are near a divorce, the pressure is immense with our autistic son who is 4 years old. My husband blames me and I blame him, all our arguments I know are from stress, then we drink to numb the pain of helplessness. We need help and I don’t know where to turn to. I need to talk to someone and I am desperate for my husband to love me again. Autism has simply wrecked our lives, I love my son but I feel I have lost my life and husband now. Please help.
Feeling the Pain
Dear Feeling the Pain,
My heart goes out to you. You are not alone in your situation, unfortunately many marriages become very stressed when trying to deal with having a child with autism. It sounds as if you and your husband need some time away together from your child, time to enjoy each other’s company, to rediscover what you enjoyed about each other before autism entered your life. Try to find someone to watch your son on a regular basis (ie once or twice a week) so you and your husband can leave the home and have a date. Individual counseling for you to have someone to speak to, and couples counseling may help you learn how to deal with the new family dynamics. Finding the right therapist is important. Perhaps contacting your local autism society chapter and finding out if there are any recommendations from other parents. Finally, joining an autism support group could help you feel you are not so alone and you may find other moms you enjoy connecting with. As well, there are many on-line social communities available to connect with to share information and vent. There are more and more dad support groups as well. My best wishes in re-connecting with your husband, and finding the support you need.
Autism: It's A Family Affair
This article was posted on my Psychology Today Blog, The Autism Advocate , on March 26, 2010.
A couple of years a go I was asked to write an article on The Affects of Autism in Families and in Partner Relationships, for the May/June 2008 issue of Family Therapy Magazine. Lately I have been getting emails in regards to autism and marital stress, and I thought I would reprint part of the article here, since the information is still valid. If you are interested in this topic, you may wish to read the chapter on the financial and emotional stresses of autism on the family that appears in my new book 41 Things to Know About Autism (just published by Turner Publishing).
Family life is all about relationships and communication: relationships between two people in love, parents and children, siblings, extended family members. Yet, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are all about communication challenges, misunderstanding of social cues, and lack of emotional understanding, thus affecting every relationship in the family. In marriage, if one of the partners is on the spectrum, there will be more difficulties than the usual marital conflicts. Sibling issues are exacerbated by having an autistic sibling and/or a parent on the spectrum. Communication and social challenges can also impact the adult’s work situation. Grandparents are concerned about the effects of autism on their adult children (the parents), other grandchildren and future generations. Continue reading »
Family life is all about relationships and communication: relationships between two people in love, parents and children, siblings, extended family members. Yet, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are all about communication challenges, misunderstanding of social cues, and lack of emotional understanding, thus affecting every relationship in the family. In marriage, if one of the partners is on the spectrum, there will be more difficulties than the usual marital conflicts. Sibling issues are exacerbated by having an autistic sibling and/or a parent on the spectrum. Communication and social challenges can also impact the adult’s work situation. Before looking at how to best provide support, a better understanding of the particular difficulties autism infuses into the family unit is necessary.
Autism: It’s a Family Thing
It has been estimated that the divorce rate is in the 80% range in families with children who have autism (Bolman, 2006). Despite high rates of marital conflict, many couples do not reach out for couples therapy. Lack of respite is a major reason. For most, finding a babysitter with whom then can safely leave an autistic child who has toileting issues, little communication skills, aggression and other inappropriate behaviors on a regular basis is difficult (Sicile-Kira, 2004). Another reason is their lack of belief that they will find a therapist understanding of their particular circumstance and offer any true guidance, thus preferring to use the precious time away from the child to confide in a good friend.
Marital stress around the child usually starts when one or both of the parents realizes the child is not developing properly. Couples who have a child who does not seek their attention in the usual way (i.e., eye contact, reaching out for or giving of affection, searching them for comfort when hurt) find it hard not to feel rejected or unimportant to the child. For those whose child develops normally and then regresses around 18-24 months, there is the added loss of the child they knew slipping away. Consider also that a couple looks forward to having a child, and each person had his idea of what the expected child will be like. When the child does not match the expectation, or regresses, there is a loss and anguish felt by the parent not unlike the stages of grief that people who lose a loved one experience (Sicile-Kira, 2004).
Other stages of added stress are: getting a diagnosis (family physicians are reluctant to make a diagnosis on a condition once rare for which they have no set treatment plan to prescribe); getting services (a constant struggle); dealing with adolescence (sexual development appears, uncontrolled tantrums can be dangerous as the teen gets bigger); and post high school (the realization that few adult services are available) (Sicile-Kira, 2006).