DEPRESSION IN PARENTS OF AUTISTIC CHILDREN: WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Every parent wants the best for his or her child, so when you learn that your child has special needs it often adds extra stress to what would be the typical ups and downs of parenting. Of course, not every parent of an autistic child struggles with feelings of depression or being overwhelmed, but many do. Knowing when to seek help can enable you to reduce your levels of stress and be the best you can for your child.
Common Reasons for Depression
Many parents who learn that their child has autism struggle with feelings of guilt or anger. It can be very frustrating to deal with a diagnosis of autism because so little is known about the disorder and its causes. Learning how to communicate with your child in a new way is difficult and feeling that somehow your genetics are to blame can exacerbate feelings of depression and guilt.
However, if these feelings are overwhelming you might want to consider seeking help. Being occasionally frustrated and angry is normal. When those feelings take over to the point where you can no longer live an overall happy and full life then these are no longer manageable levels of stress or sadness.
Signs You’re Under Too Much Stress
If you find yourself snapping at your spouse or another member of your family because you’re frustrated but the rest of your day is relatively ok, chances are you’re experiencing normal stress levels. However, if you suffer with any of the following symptoms regularly, you might benefit from professional help:
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling constantly unhappy
- Being unable to shake feelings of sadness or guilt
- Not eating normally (either too much or too little)
- Chronic irritability
Simply put, if you’re not the person you used to be or your daily functions (like eating, sleeping and getting up in the morning) are being impeded by your feelings of frustration, guilt or depression, you should consider seeking professional help.
Why is Stress Management Important?
Most parents who learn that their child has special needs dive head first into the business of making sure their child has everything he or she requires. In that process, some parents neglect to take care of themselves. What your child needs most of all are healthy parents, so make sure that you’re taking time for yourself, for yourself and your spouse as a couple, and for fun and relaxing family time.
Aim to keep your nutrition in check and take some “you” time. Work with a professional if stress management is difficult for you to tackle on your own. Whether it’s a yoga class once a week or simply reading a book in a comfortable environment for a half an hour a day, make sure you take care of yourself and minimize stress as much as possible. It may feel like “selfish” time, but in reality you are taking care of your child and your whole family by taking care of yourself.
How Can a Professional Help?
Professional therapists can assist you in seeing things clearly and bring perspective to your situation. It’s likely that after your child was diagnosed with autism you became very involved in reading, researching, and learning everything you could about the condition. A therapist can help you to:
- Uncover the reasons behind your feelings of stress, anger or depression.
- Help you see things clearly and from an unbiased perspective.
- Assist you in uncovering the specific triggers for your feelings.
- Develop customized coping strategies.
- Help you find time in your day for prescribed “you” time.
- Offer suggestions for activities that will help.
- Involve your family as a support system.
- Provide a safe place where you can discuss your feelings without worrying that you are “burdening” your family or close friends.
Help Yourself to Help Your Child
Keeping a journal of your feelings can be very useful if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, fear or anger. Going back through the journal can help you recognize thought patterns that your therapist can assist you in understanding.
Recognize that parenting comes with its own level of stress, and that it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed when you find out that your child has autism. Nonetheless, if those feelings persist, start to change your personality and affect your life in a negative way it may be a good idea to seek professional help so you can be at your best for your child and family.