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Advice for Seeking Support for Parents of Children with Autism

By: Kelly DSouza

Most parents have an idea of what they want their child to be like, even before they are born. The beautiful process of parenting eventually allows us to let go of the “imagined child” and come to a place of love and acceptance for who the child has become. When a child is diagnosed with a life long medical condition, there can be a drastic and dramatic change from the “imagined child”. (Rogers, 2012)

When working with children diagnosed with Autism, the therapeutic power lies in accepting the children for who they are before implementing intervention to create change. A lot of parents who just find out about their kid’s ASD diagnosis dive into a new world of finding the right intervention, trying to figure out the funding procedures and learning about the disorder. In some cases parents may experience a form of grief. This can come from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the disorder. There can be a deep sense of mourning for the imagined child. Most parents will talk about a feeling of guilt even (Power, 2000). Most mothers with children on the spectrum blame themselves and feel incompetent and experience a sense of isolation. (Rodrigue et al, 1990).

When your child is diagnosed with autism, the first instinct is to seek all therapy services for the young child. Seeking social support can be more difficult if you’re in a phase of denial, guilt and grief. Parents may decide not to talk about it to family and friends, but it is recommended that if you are having intense emotions of sadness and experiencing symptoms of anxiety, to seek support from loved ones and a professional. Counselling can be effective in dealing with those feelings. It is a form of self-care. It is important to take care of yourself and understand your feelings before you can take care and understand the feelings of others.

Seeking professional help and support to deal with emotions of guilt and states of depression have a positive impact on the therapeutic process of the child. Having a child with special needs places the "intervention spot light" on the child immediately. The grieving process of a parent could include feelings of sadness, anger, depression and even low self esteem. Seeking professional help, counselling and support can be effective during this time, when you receive a diagnosis for your child. A lot of centers in the GTA and Toronto, provide parent coaching and support in addition to direct services with the child.

If you know someone who has recently found out about their child’s diagnosis, it is important to keep in mind that they are probably feeling overwhelmed and confused. In most cases parents will have the desire do whatever it takes to provide the right interventions for their child. But remember to be empathetic, vigilant for signs of depression or anxiety, and put our spot light attention on the child as well as the parents.

Howlin, P., & Rutter, M. (1987).Treatment of autistic children. New York : John Wiley & Sons.

Rodrigue, J. R., Morgan, S. B., & Geffken, G. (1990). Families of Autistic Children: Psychological Functioning of Mothers. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 19(4), 371.

Sally J. Rogers, Geraldine Dawson, and Laurie A. Vismara. (2012). An Early Start for Your Young Child with Autism: New York: Guilford Press

Powers, M.D. (2000). Children with autism: a parents guide. Bethesda: Woodbine House.

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