When we hear a person is diagnosed with a disease or a disorder, naturally, we may not always think how it may affect those around these people. But some disorders and diseases don’t just impact the person suffering. Autism spectrum disorder is one of them.
An autism spectrum disorder heavily impacts every aspect of a person’s life. Being a lifelong disorder, the signs and symptoms of ASD don’t really go away either. Along with it, the individual may also have comorbidities that affect their physical and mental health. Anxiety and depression are some of these that impact a person’s life.
It’s not difficult to imagine feeling left out due to ‘not being able to fit’ in places. Individuals with special needs such as an autism spectrum disorder and other comorbidities may feel this pressure from their peers and those around them. However, according to studies, they are not the only ones feeling this pressure.
Parenting is difficult. Virtually no one would dispute this aspect. For the parents and caregivers of children with ASD and other developmental disorders, the situation is a bit more complex. Research showed that parenting stressors relating to raising a child with ASD and other developmental disorders stated that they feel that there is a relation between their depression and anxiety and the behaviours they see their child exhibit.
The fact is, the amount of stress felt by the parents and caregivers of children with developmental disorders and disabilities was found to increase the depressive episodes. Unfortunately, the child’s behaviours that are associated with the disorder or the disability seem to increase maternal stress, and sometimes result in clinically depressed parents.
In the end, families find themselves in a vicious cycle, where the child’s condition instigates parental depression and stress, and high parental stress and depression results in increased behaviour problems.
Studies and science aside, there is also the social aspect resulting in parental stress and depression. When they get an autism diagnosis, which is already a big deal in many ways, parents sort of losing their idea and expectations of parenthood they imagined for a very long time. Their dreams of belonging to a parent club where they can meet and have play dates with neurotypical children kind of crash down. Social engagements become more and more complex. There is also the financial burden of treating a complex, unique, and lifelong disorder.
On top of physical, social, psychological, and financial stress, parents and caregivers have to be the advocate for their children when it comes to the school system and the right to education for their child. It is no doubt really challenging handling all of these stress factors for a very long time.
The big picture may seem dark for the parents and caregivers of children with special needs. But it is important and will be helpful to remember that these are all normal processes. Some tips for parents and caregivers are proven to help cope with stress and depression. The first step is to get professional help from a healthcare provider.
A support system is important. Get help from those around you, both professionally and in your family. If they offer help, get it. There are a lot of people going through similar phases. Even having their perspective on things and listening to them can be a really relieving experience.
Parents and caregivers know their child the best and want to take care of their child in the best way possible. But to do so, they have to take care of themselves first. Take stock of everything and see what the stress factors are for you. Are you getting enough sleep? Maybe exercise can help. Eating habits and socialising with others may also turn things around for the better.
There is no one way to be the parent of the year. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, and make sure that you don’t exclude yourself from the equation and take care of yourself too.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.