World Autism Day – Handling Autism in the Family

World Autism Day – Handling Autism in the Family

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It’s World Autism Day. A day for raising
awareness of autism, learning more about autistic spectrum disorders, and for
celebrating the great people around us who have ASD.

We’ve come a long way since 1911 (when
autistic spectrum disorders were first identified). We no longer subject
non-neurotypical people to dehumanising ‘cures’. We no longer think that people
with ASD are possessed by devils, or even that they’re being deliberately
‘naughty’. We know that autism is not a ‘defect’ caused by upbringing, or
environmental factors, or vaccines. We’ve become a lot more understanding of
neurological difference.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy
to have a child with ASD. While children with autism provide a unique
perspective on life (which brings with it unique rewards), their differing
emotional and sensory needs can also be challenging at times.

As the National Counselling Society, we
fully understand that autism can affect family life in ways about which many of
us feel guilty. Nobody wants to admit that they find it hard to understand
their child, or that their child’s behaviour troubles them at times. However,
failing to acknowledge the challenges presented by autism can also prevent you
from acknowledging its blessings.

In this article, we’ll go through some
important strategies for helping families to cope with autism.

Get
help as early as you can

Children with autism don’t need ‘cures’ or
‘training’. But it will benefit them to gain specialist help. The right kind of
help will enable them to cope with their own particular needs in a neurotypical
world. As early as you possibly can, do things like:

  • Get a
    diagnosis
  • Establish
    your child’s particular needs, triggers etc
  • Work out
    educational policies for your child
  • Start any
    treatment needed

The younger your child starts learning to
live with their ASD, the better their chance of adapting to the world and
having a happy and healthy future.

Remember
that you are important to your child’s future

Sadly, the world we live in does not make
life easy for people with autism. Our society is designed for neurotypical
people. For children with autism to survive and thrive as adults, a lot hangs
on the skills they learn and the acceptance they feel as children.

That may feel like a huge amount of
pressure on you. Not only do you have to raise your child to be healthy and
happy, you also have to prepare them for a world which may not make life easy
for them. It’s a big ask, and it can take its toll – particularly if you r
child has special needs and/or behavioural issues related to their ASD.

What you need to remember is that, for your
child to be happy and healthy, you need to be happy and healthy yourself. You
can’t look after your child if you aren’t looking after yourself. So, be sure
to practice self-care. This doesn’t mean indulging yourself at every
opportunity (although a bit of indulgence doesn’t hurt!), it means things like
the following:

  • Eating
    healthily
  • Exercising
    as and when you can
  • Getting
    regular and good-quality sleep
  • Learning
    where you source your own strength from, and respecting those sources
  • Making time
    and space to fulfil your own emotional needs
  • Doing
    things which make you feel happy, relaxed, and fulfilled

Of course, it’s not always easy to find the
time to practice self-care when you’re a parent, so it’s also vital to…

Seek
out support

We all need different amounts of support,
and different kinds of support. It’s worth establishing what kind of support
you require in order to raise your child as happily as you can.

Perhaps you need someone who understands
your child’s needs to babysit every now and again, so that you can go out and
enjoy yourself. Perhaps you need the experience of other parents in your
situation, or the specialised skills of ASD experts. Maybe you need a group of
friends with whom to let your hair down. Or perhaps you need the assistance of
an accredited counsellor, who will give you a non-judgemental space in which to
air your own concerns and emotions.

Build up a support network upon which you
can rely. Even if you feel like you don’t need help from anyone, it’s worth
having people to fall back on during hard times.

Learn
how to be your child’s advocate

No child can really speak up for
themselves, but children with ASD may find it harder than most to make their
needs felt and their voices heard. It is impingent upon parents, guardians, and
family members to fight for what children with autism need.

It isn’t always easy to put yourself
forward and go into battle for your child – particularly when your child needs
something which threatens to disrupt an established system. So it’s worth
learning from parents and people with autism who have blazed the trail before
you. They’ll help you to find your voice, and teach you how to engage with
systems for your child’s benefit.

Love
your child

You probably don’t need any help with this
– but it’s worth stating anyway! Don’t let your child become an avatar of
autism. Make sure that you continue to love them for and because of who they
are. Don’t think of them as a child with a ‘condition’ – think of them as your
child, whom you love. Celebrate their victories, be proud of them, and never
lose sight of their essential humanity. They’re not bad or damaged. They’re
just different.

Can
counselling help?

An accredited counsellor can help anyone
who is struggling. Coping with autism in the family can be stressful, and may
bring out a range of emotions (including, but not limited to: guilt, anger,
sadness, joy, and frustration). If you need a place to be yourself, to talk
about yourself, to express your issues, and to learn coping techniques, it’s
very much worth getting in touch with a local counsellor. Visit our website for more information on
finding a counsellor who is right for you.