Raising a child with autism is a difficult and often frustrating task. Fortunately, today’s parents have access to a number of autism education and support services. Resources are available to help families understand autism, and autism support groups help parents cope with the challenges of raising an autistic child.
Learning about Autism
Parents of an autistic child must learn as much about autism as possible in order to help both their child and themselves. The stress of raising an autistic child can be overwhelming. Parents are often tempted to blame themselves, or one another, for the autism that affects their child. Understanding the nature of autism helps parents keep matters in perspective.
With the wide selection of autism education and support services available, the problem isn’t finding educational materials-it’s deciding which ones to use.
Online Autism Education
There are many excellent autism websites online, maintained both by professional autism support groups and by other parents.
A word of caution, however. If you access autism education and support services online, be sure that the site is reputable. Some sites contain information that is outdated or simply wrong. Take information only from sites you feel you can trust. If you’re in doubt, verify the information with your child’s doctor.
In addition to autism education, the Internet can provide virtual autism support groups for parents in the form of forums, message boards and chat rooms. While virtual support services aren’t the same as attending a face-to-face parent support group for autism, they can still be very useful.
Hitting the Library
Local libraries and bookstores are goldmines of autism information. With the dramatic rise in autism rates, a number of very good books have been written with the parents of autistic children in mind.
Initially, parents may want a general overview of autism. Some books define what autism is, list the treatment options and answer basic questions. Other books focus on challenges specific to the parents of an autistic child such as toilet training, social acceptance and play time.
In addition to the educational materials, some children’s books explain autism to both autistic children and their siblings. Memoirs by autistic writers may give you some understanding of your child’s inner life.
A Parent Support Group for Autism
The parents of an autistic child often feel alone. Family members can be a great help to parents, or they can be one more stressor to worry about, depending on individual family dynamics. Strangers in public stare when the child acts “oddly” and some have no qualms about approaching parents and lecturing them about their child’s behavior. There are times when you feel no one understands or cares.
Of course, you’re not the only parent or parents raising an autistic child. With autism rates as high as one out of every 150 children, many parents are in similar situations. Finding a parent support group for autism is not difficult in most urban areas.
Autism support groups provide a number of advantages to parents. Parents can gain a sense of community with other parents, both by exchanging stories and suggestions.
Many autism support groups have access to autism education and support services. Parents may discover resources they would not have found outside the support group. A parent support group for autism may provide respite care: someone else to care for the child while the parents take some much needed time off. If the support group doesn’t offer a respite care program, they may know of someone who does.
Autism doesn’t just affect the autistic child: it affects every member of the family. Stress and family tensions can reach critical proportions when autism is a factor. A partnership is put under terrific strain when parents are caring for a special needs child. If not handled properly, divorce or separation can be the result.
Family therapy can be an important part of your child’s autism treatment plan. Family therapy helps both parents and children cope with the changes that autism brings. In addition to autism support groups for parents, support services are available for siblings and other family members.
Seeking out autism education and special services is relatively easy in today’s information-packed age. These can prove invaluable as you face the challenge of raising an autistic child.
Autism Online (2001). Autism online. Retrieved July 5, 2007, from the Autism Online Web site: www.autismonline.org/.
AutismLink (2007). Autism resources by state. Retrieved July 5, 2007, from the AutismLink Web site: www.autismlink.com/.