Blog #122~ Parent Stress and Autism
Research has clearly shown that mothers of children with autism experience more stress, depression and poorer health than is typical of mothers in general. Autism Research Review (ARRI) reports this editorial, “Parental Stress in Autism Spectrum Disorders: In a survey of 219 parents of children with autism, Sharpley, et al. (1997), found that more than 80% reported sometimes being “stretched beyond their limits,” with mothers reporting higher stress levels than fathers. The authors commented that the three most stressful factors are “(a) concern over the permanency of the condition; (b) poor acceptance of autistic behaviors by society and, often, by other family members; and (c) the very low levels of social support received by parents.”
I know of this stress too well. My son, Nick is 21 years old and has Down syndrome and autism. His impulsivity is at an all-time high. In the 5 minutes I stepped out to roll the garbage bins to the curb, he cleared out a desk drawer and threw the contents all over place. A few days before, he was up at 4am and proceeded to take two bottles of salad dressing and dump them all over the kitchen and laundry room floors.
At least he put the empty bottles in the recycle bin 🙂
According to an article written in Disability Scoop (www.disabilityscoop.com):
“Mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers and struggle with frequent fatigue and work interruptions, new research finds. These moms also spend significantly more time caregiving than moms of those without disabilities.
Researchers followed a group of moms of adolescents and adults with autism for eight days in a row. Moms were interviewed at the end of each day about their experiences and on four of the days researchers measured the moms’ hormone levels to assess their stress.
They found that a hormone associated with stress was extremely low, consistent with people experiencing chronic stress such as soldiers in combat, the researchers report in one of two studies published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Such hormone levels have been associated with chronic health problems and can affect glucose regulation, immune functioning and mental activity, researchers say.
Now, I would never compare my level of stress to that of a combat soldier. But I do have to remain on point to keep up with Nick. I must jump out of my skin dozens of times a day when he pushes the ADT keypad, microwave, garbage disposal, and phone intercom buttons, runs upstairs to run the faucets full blast, or empties a full basket of folded laundry and the basket off the second floor. Mix in sleep deprivation and dodging potential meltdowns situations, topped with a constant barrage of stimming sounds all of which send tension levels skyrocketing.
The stress of parenting a child with autism is high for many reasons. Parents cope with grief, worries about the future, struggling to find resources and support for their child on top of handling the behavior and communication issues associated with having autism.
A child with autism may display unpredictable and disruptive behaviors have meltdowns that can be of danger to themselves and others and have trouble sleeping through the night. Deficits in speech and communication can contribute to behavior problems as well. In addition, parents may be dealing with seizure disorders related to autism.
A child’s autism diagnosis affects every member of the family in different ways. Parents must now place their primary focus on helping their child with autism. This may put pressure on their marriage, other children, work, finances, and personal relationships and responsibilities. Much of the focus shifts to finding resources and spending money towards treatment and interventions for their child. These needs can complicate family relationships, especially with siblings.
So what coping mechanisms help a parent dealing with anxiety and drained of energy?
*Get involved with support groups locally and online
*Obtain respite care and apply for funding for supportive services.
*Get your child/young adult into programs and social groups specifically tailored to autism.
*Carve out time to enjoy leisure activities like exercise, massage, meditation and self-relaxation techniques.
These can go a long way towards improving mental health and reduce the strain caused daily. While I try and do most of things, there are some days that push me close to the edge. Ask any parent raising a child with autism and they will tell you that some days you just can’t combat the stress. That’s what is in my noggin (and heart) this week.