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Parental Stress and ASD

by | Jul 16, 2020

Parental stress from ASD is a real thing.

Last year Disability Scoop Magazine ran an article referencing research from the University of Wisconsin which measured the stress level of mothers with adolescent and young adult children on the autism spectrum.

The study concluded that these mothers experienced stress levels similar to the stress levels of soldiers in combat.

The Impact of Stress

These days there is stress in everyone’s life. But those of us with kids with ASD often experience more stress before we put our feet on the floor in the morning than most people do on their toughest day!

So, what does the impact of that kind of stress look like in real life?

While sometimes we may experience the feeling that we are finally getting a handle on managing our life with ASD, it is often short lived. As our child develops further and the strategies, rhythm and routine that were helping us manage become obsolete, we are once again thrown back into the stress.

“Being constantly vigilant can feel overwhelming.”

New issues arise, and old issues that we thought were handled re-surface.

This can create a sense that we need superhuman flexibility and foresight to predict what is going to happen if we are ever going to manage the autism.

Being constantly vigilant can feel overwhelming.

The Art of Predictability

As we try to predict what’s coming next, we can feel like a failure. Usually we can’t predict it, but we live braced for it anyway! When it happens (whatever “it” is) the sense of defeat that accompanies hitting a setback again reinforces our fear that we are not making progress!

And worse yet, the more attentive and committed we are as parents, the more we experience the pressure of having a goal and falling short as stress!

Because we live constantly with this elevated baseline rumble of tension in our lives, new stressors that occur can derail us more easily than those whose underlying stress level is not combat frequency.

So, when the inevitable difficulties of life crash down on you, maintaining your balance is black belt living! It requires that we dig deep into our personal emotional resources to keep going.

For example, when a grandparent (our parent) becomes ill or dies, that additional emotional strain and grief can bring us to our knees. We can experience a whole host of repercussions such as exhaustion, lethargy, anxiety, or utter defeat that derails us and our efforts to be the constant support our child needs.

“If you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, take this as validation of your feelings. Every day can feel challenging!”

The natural pain of grief and loss can often be further traumatized by the cognitive dissonance that is created by our recognition of our desire to be a great parent to our child, and the inability to control life’s circumstances. Again, the gap between ourselves and other parents seems to widen as the underlying level of stress we experience is compounded dealing with life’s difficult moments.

If you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, take this as validation of your feelings. Every day can feel challenging!

If you are a therapist working with a family who has a member on the spectrum, keep an eye out for that elevated level of stress. It may surface in any number of ways, including the fact that many families are so acclimated to their struggles, that they don’t seek help until the situation becomes really extreme!

Here’s a link to a short video I made referencing that article last year:

Stay strong, take care of yourself and remember that self-care is not indulgent, it’s a matter of survival.

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