Your question: What can I do if my autistic child causes me anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Autism is a complex subject, as there is a whole world of possibilities when experiencing it either first hand or through a family member. Having a child on the autism spectrum is an experience that can be exhausting, physically and emotionally, so I empathize with your situation and understand that your search for help is a symptom that something is not going your way.

First, I want to start by telling you that the feelings of anxiety, stress, anger, frustration and helplessness that you have towards your child with autism are completely valid and normal. Parents are generally inculcated with the idea of perfectionism, being told not only that they must be infallible but that they cannot have any “negative feelings” towards their children.

Research has shown that parents with children on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and everyday stress. This is due to the additional pressures of raising a neurodivergent child, and among the most common concerns are the adjustment problems their child may experience in society (1).

Parenting is possibly the hardest job in the world because of everything that must be balanced and taken into account. Parenting a neurodivergent child is even more so, because you have to take into account that their behavior and way of responding to the world is inevitably different.

Why does parenting seem like an impossible task?

There is no way to be a “perfect parent” for your child on the autism spectrum. You will make mistakes in this process, but the important thing is to learn from them and constantly improve.

First, it is important that as a parent you become the leading expert on autism. One thing that helps parents with neurodivergent children is valid information about their child’s condition, provided by professionals and independently researched on the right sites. My main recommendation, only inform yourself about autism on recognized psychology and medical sites, nothing to listen to comments or alternative therapies that appear without foundation on social networks.

Your child may grow up to be different from what you expected. Their path through life may be different than other children’s. Your child might need more support from family, friends, and their community. They might need help to learn how to live their life in the way that works best for them.

It is frustrating and painful when children defy the expectations parents had for them. Therefore, the first thing you must do as parents is to reconcile the fact that autism is not a disease, it is not something that will disable your child for life, it is an experience that makes them different and therefore, makes you as a parent different. When you stop seeing your child from a condescending point of view, accepting their differences and supporting them to achieve their personal goals at their own pace and way, you have already taken a great step forward.

How can you help your child?

From my experience, the approach with children within the autism spectrum must be specialized according to each case. Some children with autism, for example, are more irritable, others have a calmer attitude but have sadness and apathy, but the common point is the difficulty in adapting to social environments and repetitive patterns, which generate stress and discomfort if broken.

Some recommendations for parents’ treatment of their children on the autism spectrum are:

  • Stay consistent and on schedule: People on the spectrum like routines. Make sure they get consistent guidance and interaction, so they can practice what they learn from therapy. This can make learning new skills and behaviors easier, and help them apply their knowledge in different situations.
  • Give it time: You’ll likely try a lot of different techniques, treatments, and approaches as you figure out what’s best for your child. Stay positive and try not to get discouraged if they don’t respond well to a particular method.
  • Socialize: Encourage your children to bond with other children at their own pace. You can encourage them to communicate with other children through their likes or fixations. For example, if your child has a fondness for a TV character, you can encourage them to tell other children about that character.
  • Modeling: The home is a space for “rehearsals,” in which you can train your child for social and school activities. By role-playing, you can pretend to be your child’s teacher or another child on a playground. This way you can practice social skills that your child will put into practice at the given time.

How can you help yourself?

Services should help your autistic child live their best life as an autistic person, but what about you? If you neglect your mental health, you are not doing what is best for your child. That’s why it’s also important to take yourself into account and prioritize your individual spaces.

Ask for help from mental health professionals, particularly if you are feeling depressed, frustrated or exhausted. Helping yourself feel less stressed will benefit your child as well.

In my experience…

It is important that you never neglect your physical and mental health as a parent, as you have to be well to be there to support your child in the autistic spectrum. Exercising, practicing yoga or a sport helps you not only to train your body and clear your mind, but also to find spaces and people not related to your daily life. Socializing always allows us to better understand ourselves and free ourselves from routine.

Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. You can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. Apply the techniques at your own pace and I am confident that you will gradually improve. It was a pleasure to write to you

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