|Autism: A Family Disorder
Families of children with autism spectrum disorders confront a wide range of challenges. Raising a child on
the autism spectrum is difficult, both for children mildly or severely affected. Autism’s influence on the
family may be unbearably exhausting, isolating and troublesome. Parents often need counseling to help cope
with the autism diagnosis. Comments such as, ‘which side of the family does it come from?’ only make the
situation worse. One parent may need to become a stay at home parent for a time to meet all the needs of
the child with autism. Reducing the family income can affect every aspect of family living.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a supporting circle of friends. Sadly, some friends or people in the
community may label the child as being ‘disorderly’ or may advise you show the child some discipline.
Unfortunately, this may cause the parents to distant themselves as they feel accountable and uncomfortable
when their autistic child misbehaves. It's common for siblings of a child with autism to feel humiliated by
their autistic brother or sister's behavior in public, or to be hesitant to invite friends home. Often due to
society’s ignorance, some families affected by autism disconnect themselves from their community. It
becomes easier to deal with autistic behaviors and communication difficulties at home, rather than out in the
The Family’s Social Life
Some parents with autistic children may notice that invitations to social gatherings cease. Friends without
children, or who have children without special needs, may feel uncomfortable around a person with autism.
They often cannot embrace individuals with language delays and social and behavioral difficulties. Some
people do not want their typical children playing with an autistic child, as if the disorder might be contagious.
A child with autism may be withdrawn, frequently playing alone, and may be inappropriate in their play and
conduct. Autistic children sometimes make strange noises or engage in repetitive behaviors that can be
frightening to other children and adults not used to being around someone with additional needs. Some
children with autism may have sensitivities to certain foods, eat special diets to lessen their symptoms, or
have strange eating habits this makes it difficult for the family to accept dinner invitations. Many children
with autism may have altered sleep patterns and be particularly devoted to doing things a certain way.
Transitions are usually difficult for a child with autism making family outings sometimes impossible,
especially in the early days before intervention sessions. Transitions include any change in present actions or
environment. Simple tasks, such as interrupting playtime to eat a meal, can cause distress for a person with
autism. Distress can cause the child with autism to act out physically and/or verbally. These are the natural
reactions to various stimuli. Natural if you have autism that is. Of course, these behaviors are not only
embarrassing for the parent, but also stressful when trying to prevent the child from doing physical damage
or self-injury. Careful planning usually makes changes in routine bearable so spur of the moment outings
may become possible. Autistic behaviors may prevent families from attending events together. For example
one parent stays home with the child due to lack of a qualified caregiver in their absence.
Interventions will require frequent parental involvement with the school and the autistic child's classroom.
Some families have a difficult time getting their insurance plans to cover specific treatments. There may be
a team of therapists coming into the home on a daily basis which puts additional pressure on the family.
These visits involve a combination of speech-language, occupational and physical therapy services. The
entire family may need to change their diet to help the child with autism. It isn’t just the parents teaching the
child, either. Siblings become involved in the teaching. The correct professional support is vital, but the
support of loving friends and family is what makes achieving this possible. Without the support of friends
and family, the world of autism can be a very lonely place. Not only for the child with autism but for the