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How do I cope with my sadness as the parent of a child with autism?

Chantal Sicile-Kira
Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities
You are dealing with a difficult situation as the caretaker and parent of a child with autism. Parents have to go through a grief cycle after a child has been diagnosed with autism. They must acknowledge their feelings in order to move forward. A parent may mourn the child he expected or hoped for. He may be embarrassed by his child's behavior. Taking some time for yourself (by asking a trusted family member or friend to take care of the child for a few hours) can help. Joining a support group of parents of children with autism in your area, if possible, could help as well.
William Stillman
Health Education

You must discern the source of your sadness in order to heal it. Are you mourning the loss of the child you anticipated while pregnant? Are you feeling alone and isolated in raising your child? Do you struggle trying to navigate a service system that is intimidating? Or do you feel your child’s future is futile? Not only are these unhealthy feelings to endure for a prolonged period, your child will sense your dismay and react to it as well.

Your role as a parent has been compounded by raising a child you may feel unequipped to understand. It is important to build a network of support, be it formal or informal, and to access the services your child is entitled to. More than anything, parents of children with autism have been consistent in suggesting that their single greatest resource has been the opportunity to connect with another parent in similar circumstances. Parent to Parent USA, P2PUSA.org, provides emotional and informational support to families of children with special needs, and may be able to put you in contact with other parents (perhaps even in your town) who have “been there, done that,” and can lend a sympathetic ear.

If your overall sadness includes irritability, fluctuating weight and eating habits, sleep disturbances, and a sense of hopelessness, you may be experiencing depression. Please consult with your family doctor for her opinion or referral to a mental wellness practitioner if need be.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.