Autism has been described as “a family epidemic”, because it can have a significant effect on the entire family for many years. And it is more than the immediate family that’s affected; parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other relatives may all be involved in some way, because it takes a big commitment to raise a child with autism.
First of all, let us look at autism from the viewpoint of somebody who is autistic.
For the sake of this example, let us imagine that I am autistic. I do understand quite a few of the things that are going on, but sometimes I may have a different perspective. I feel upset when people are rude to me. I feel sad when people don’t understand what is going on with me. Some of them may think that “a good talking to” or perhaps some punishment would make me “better”.
My senses may sometimes react differently. I may not be able to handle loud noises, bright lights or bad smells in the same way you can. There is no need to apologize or feel pity for who I am. My brain works a little differently, that’s all.
I am often told to stop using different ways to do things and do them like everybody else. This is often too hard for me to manage. Sometimes I may find it hard to write, so I type instead.
Now let us look at how autism impacts the family.
When a child is diagnosed with autism, there’s a range of emotions the family goes through. They will feel shock, denial, sadness, depression, confusion, pain, anger and, finally, acceptance. They will need to learn as much as they can to properly care for the child.
Daily life will be different, depending on the needs of the child. A second opinion may be requested, just to confirm the facts. That is common, because it may be hard to process the information until the second specialist has verified the diagnosis.
If there is a large family (or extended family) the care can be shared around. However, if it’s a small family, then the caregivers will just be the parents and siblings. They will have to cope with that, in addition to the rest of their lives at work and/or school.
It is vital that the family acknowledges the overwhelming emotional impact that autism creates, and that it is just as important to care for yourself as a parent, as it is to care for the child. Getting support for the child and for the family members early on will be crucial in enabling them to deal with everything that autism represents.
Learning about autism will be a life-long education with many hurdles along the way, but if the love and family support is strong, then nothing is impossible.