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Coping Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

There are increasing numbers of multiple children with autism in the same family, and it's logical to try to think where the genetic mix-up could have been, but too often family research turns into family blame. I can't tell you how often I've sat in my office and had one parent tell me that the other parent has symptoms of autism – I've even had both parents tell me, confidentially, that their spouses have symptoms of autism!

You know what? We all have symptoms of autism – each symptom falls on a continuum, and somewhere on that continuum it turns from typical to a disability. A husband who bites his fingernails or doesn't particularly enjoy socializing isn't necessarily genetically responsible for producing a child who rocks back and forth constantly. And a mother who has trouble expressing her emotions and likes to sit in a rocking chair isn't necessarily genetically responsible for a child who fixates on spinning fans.

I would guess that almost every family has some member with mental disabilities in its lineage. While assessing these issues may be helpful in genetic planning, playing the blame game doesn't help your child get the help he needs – nor does it help your marriage in any way. The last thing your spouse needs is to feel like he's done something wrong in mating with you. You had children together because you loved each other.

Having a child is always a gamble. Sometimes a child is born with a disability. That's the harsh reality. Passing around blame is an emotionally harmful game that serves no useful function.

Some parents feel angry when their child is diagnosed with autism. I met with one family whose four-year-old son had just been diagnosed with mild autism, and the dad sat in the corner, arms crossed, glaring at me throughout our first session. Not long after, he realized that I was doing my best to help his son, but at that point he just felt angry, and I was the nearest target.

Anger isn't always a waste of time. A friend of mine once pointed out that people who get angry under adverse situations and who channel that angry energy toward appropriate and useful action will often succeed where others fail. I'm all in favor of the kind of anger that makes you say, "We're going to lick this thing!" But anger that just makes you sullen and resentful toward people who are trying to help you is working against you.

Next: Isolation >>

From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright © 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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