Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition in which the person faces developmental and behavioral challenges. Children with autism and their families face different challenges in society. Autism exists on a spectrum that affects communication, behavior, and social interactions.
ASD is a lifelong developmental disability. It is becoming more common and affects more males than females.
Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment of Autism
Research data suggests that genetic and environmental factors are the main reasons for developing ASD. Research has shown that some different genetic mutations and disorders cause ASD.
Moreover, parental ages may also be a responsible risk factor for developing ASD. Study says that older parents may have children with this disorder, especially the first baby. A study stated that the risk of developing ASD with the firstborn child is high.
Diagnosis of Autism in children is a challenge. There is no specific medical test to diagnose autism spectrum disorder. Doctors and caregivers choose the assessments and diagnostic tools. The criteria mentioned in “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) are the standard reference to define autism.
Currently, there is no treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But many interventions and therapies help minimize the symptoms and maximize abilities in autistic people. Behavioral therapies like applied behavioral analysis (ABA) are very effective in ASD. Other occupational interventions like speech, physical, and pharmacological treatment also help in providing help to people with ASD.
These interventions and therapies minimize the impact of deficits associated with ASD and maximize functional independence and quality of life.
When the diagnosis confirms autism in a child, it changes the lives of parents and other family members. The parents need a support system to help the child carry out his daily functional activities.
Let us study how a person with ASD impacts the family atmosphere.
Impact of Autism on the Family
Raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a shattering experience for parents and families. The severe deficits in children with ASD offer challenges for caregivers, including reduced parenting efficacy, parenting stress, and mental and physical health problems.
The mother is the child’s primary caregiver and decision-maker for her child with ASD. Research shows that they experience more stress than other family members. Their body produces more cortisol, the stress hormone than others. Mothers of autistic children experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Research showed that the degree of impairment of autism in the child determines the level of depression in the mother. The more impairment higher the anxiety. Having a child with ASD, also affect the professional career of the mothers. Autistic children demand time and care.
The study revealed that mothers with ASD children also have lower social support. They are more time engaged, have no time for leisure activities, spend maximum time in household activities, and care for the child.
Impact on Father
Fathers of children with autism usually suppress their feelings at the cost of anger. The externalized behaviors of the child stress them as their involvement with children is comparatively less than mothers.
Fathers feel judged and embarrassed when they fail to control the unusual activities of their child. They struggle to ignore people who assess them and feel themselves a misfit. Fathers assume that people blame them for their child’s challenging behavior.
Fathers often display frustration, especially during conflicts over the child’s repetitive behaviors and inflexibility. Frustration eventually leads to anger and guilt.
Fathers want their autistic children to be independent, integrate and contribute. They want society should accept and appreciate the child with ASD so that fathers should feel accepted, less judged, and embarrassed.
The study confirmed that siblings of children with ASD feel embarrassed and shameful. 84% of siblings ages 8-15 show aggression when interacting during play.
Often parents spend maximum time attending to the needs of their autistic child, so siblings feel neglected. Siblings also miss the guidance and support of their parents. Feeling of rivalry and jealousy can develop in siblings if they are left out by their parents while devoting time to their child with ASD.
The economic status of families which have a person with ASD is adversely affected because the treatment of an autistic person is a costly affair. Autism spectrum disorder is thus associated with a considerable loss of income. Parents must employ a health professional to provide interventions and therapies, incurring regular expenses. It needs finances to use interventions and therapies for the treatment.
To make things worse, private health insurers do not cover the treatment expenses of an autistic person. Sometimes parents of an autistic person are not able to work full-time. They lose a substantial amount on this account.
Difficulty in communication, socialization, and social skills are the characteristics of a child with ASD. The lack of these skills affects interpersonal relationships in the community, so families of children with autism face various social challenges.
The functioning of ASD in a school environment is often complicated. The students lack a proper understanding of social interactions and have limited play patterns. Autistic students fail to share their desires and abilities to play and make friends.
Impact on Marriage and partnerships
Studies have confirmed that for couples who have a child with ASD, the chances of their divorce are higher than 10% as compared to parents who have a child without an autism-related disability.
Parents accept their children with autism in different ways and at different stages. Relationship of married couples becomes unpleasant, resulting in conflicts due to increased responsibilities and lack of time for personal enjoyment. The economic stress put added strain on the relationship.
The family members who have a child with autism spectrum disorder encounter a lot of emotional ups and downs. The stress is indefinite, and family members sometimes get emotionally drained. Parents feel embarrassed and socially isolated due to the child’s behavior. The helplessness of parents often develops a feeling of guilt and shame. They feel responsible for the condition of the child.
Autism is a complex disorder, and families with children with ASD face various challenges. Stress in parents with such a child interferes with the quality of life of the entire family. Participating in social activities can reduce the impacts that affect all family members. Positive and supportive social support is quite beneficial for the reduction in stress for parents who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Enhancing flexibility among family members is also crucial for both parents. Emotional support is critical for encouraging a supportive relationship between the mother and the child.