Autism – Keeping Families Together

November 19, 2007 at 9:45 pm 6 comments

Added pressures…Families dealing with autism have added pressures that can strain relationships.  Pressures to help your child get better, to navigate through biomedical treatments and therapies…pressures of special diets, anxiety over change or novel situations, pressures of managing tantrums.  Pressures of working through problems with speech, social impairment, sensory integration.   Pressures of judgments and opinions of others – many times of other family members or extended family.  

How do families with an autistic child (or children) cope with these added pressures?  Recent information suggests that the divorce rate in families with an autistic child is about 80 percent!!!  This is much higher than the general divorce rate in the United States (about 1 divorce for every 2 marriages).

How do we reclaim hope for struggling families?  Maybe part of the answer can be found in figuring out how we got off the path in the first place.  Struggles can begin even prior to a child being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.  Conflict and confusion can arise over dealing with the unique health and behavioral challenges of a child with autism.  When behavioral or social issues first become noticeable, parents may have conflicting ideas about the causes and how to handle these issues.  One parent may accuse the other of giving in to difficult behavior or “spoiling” the child, while that other parent might feel their spouse is too harsh or overly-critical.  So, each parent may handle things their own way, and a lack of unity in the family develops.   

There it begins – going down two separate roads.  

But then, more challenges come – dealing with therapies, obtaining services, IEPs, biomedical treatments.  Families can become singular in their focus – to help the child get better.  However, we can get so focused on making sure we have done everything that we can to help our child get better, that we forget one very important thing:  creating a family atmosphere of love, belonging, stability, and peace that acts as a foundation for all the therapies, services, and treatments.  This type of family environment doesn’t just happen as we work our way through life and, in this case, through the challenges of autism.  A strong, stable, loving family comes when family relationships are priority and a focus. 

In our concentrated striving for healing from autism, let’s not forget to focus on building strong families.  I know that autism doesn’t leave much time or energy left for anything else.  And sometimes it seems impossible to even think about anything else.  But even the smallest effort to create unity of purpose can work to bring families back on the same road.    

Increase Non-Therapy Family Time      

When is the last time we did something together as a family that was non-therapy, non-autism-treatment related?  This concept seems so basic, yet, when confronted with the daily challenges, many times I actually forget to make the effort for our family to go to the park, the children’s museum, the playground, a day trip, or a weekend away.  

Laughter – the Greatest Medicine

Have you ever noticed how great you feel around someone who makes you laugh?  When I was a child, my elderly grandmother was in the hospital and was gravely ill.  My brother and I were too young for the hospital’s visitation policies, so my dad snuck us in.  When a nurse caught us, my dad begged the nurse to let us stay.  He said something I will never forget:  “They make her laugh, and laughter really is the best medicine!”

Even though my child with autism has an unusual sense of humor, when I try to share in what makes him laugh, he looks me in the eye – we get a moment of connection!  A unity between us in a shared moment of joy.  I notice a spark in his eye…a glimmer of hope!  Better than any other treatment or medicine!

Family Projects

I think most children, especially young ones, like fun projects.  Putting together a swing, hanging Christmas lights, making a craft project can bring many children out of their shells.  Doing these things as a family also brings a joint sense of purpose and accomplishment when the task is completed.  Family projects also cultivate a sense of ownership and belonging.  Even if the understanding of the project and skill is limited, each family member participating, on his or her own level, allows a feeling of teamwork.

On the road together 

Let’s continue to focus on healing and supporting our children with autism.  But let us also remember to focus on creating strong, united, and loving families where we are walking down the same road – together  

Colossians 3:12-14:  And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  (NASB)


National Autism Association – Family First


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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Schafer  |  April 24, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Thank you for mentioning the counseling services offered though our partnership with The National Autism Association.

    I would be happy to answer any questions concerning how the proccess works.

  • 2. miranda  |  October 15, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    thank you for the advice ill leave onther comment.

  • […] become our family mantra in many ways, and probably a good part of the reason why we are not in the “80% divorce rate for autistic families” that has been mentioned again and again. Jean’s autism is a fact of our lives and a […]

  • 4. Dani  |  July 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I hope you can help me.
    I am writing a book and I want to have one of the characters to be an autistic boy. In the book the child was in foster care until the age of 3. At the age of 3 the boy was adopted and is living in a very stable family. Now at the age of 11 one of the parents die and the boy is at risk of returning to foster care.
    I want my character to be a voice for autistic children (and parents) can anyone help? I want the mother of this autistic kid to be one that fought for that kid.
    I am sure I could find many parents willing to share their experiences with alternative treatments, difficulties of research, heartbreaks. Anything you would like to see in a novel?
    For the kid I would like to learn more about the necessity of routine, sensory stimulation and the risk of over stimulation. All I really know about autism is from the works of Temple Grandin. I would like to hear from parents and learn what would you like me to show in the novel.
    Also does anyone have any experience with autism and the foster care system.
    Please e-mail

  • 5. autism custody battles  |  September 1, 2010 at 8:57 am

    What nobody realizes is that many abusive or “in-denial” spouses will not allow a child to be diagnosed in the first place. Therefore we need to study custody battles in family courts and link it to Autism, rather than study Autism and un-link it to divorce.

  • 6. linda bollibger po box sanders az 86512  |  July 18, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    hi. i have a 18 year old boy who has autsim his name is joseph. we live in sanders, az where joseph cannot get any services at all my husband and i would love to move to flagstaff az were joseph can get all the services he needs. do you know of any one that can help linda or gary joseph needs all the help he can get


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Autism-Changing Tomorrow (ACT) blog is maintained to provide a place where ideas and thoughts relating to autism and treatments for autism may be exchanged. The information on Autism-Changing Tomorrow is of a general nature and is provided with the understanding that ACT or any individuals or entities associated with ACT are not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Any information in the postings, messages, articles, comments, and publications in or on the ACT blog must not be considered medical advice or recommendations and such information should not be considered a substitute for consultation with a board certified physician to address individual medical needs.

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