After living with a child or children who have challenges associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, many parents experience an eye-opening revelation: one or both the parents recognize traits of ASD in either themselves or each other. We live in a society that craves ‘labeling’ so there is a natural tendency to self-diagnose in order to make sense of what is going on in the family unit. Whether the parent pursues a formal diagnosis or whether that parent learns vicariously through the child’s journey, one thing is for certain, it adds an element of stress to the parenting relationship. Acknowledging traits of ASD in oneself, as a parent, can result in a mixture of emotional spill-over in daily parenting tasks and interactions with one’s spouse or partner. A parent may feel guilt (fearing that he or she caused the ASD in the child), anger (blaming oneself), confusion (what to do now?), relief (knowing how to support one’s child based on personal experiences) and anxiety (what does the future hold?). Many of these emotions are equally existent in neuro-typical parents’ minds but the impact that ASD has on marital/partner relationships can create additional challenges in parenting a child on the autism spectrum. Statistics regarding divorce are staggering without including the additional challenges of dealing with a neurodevelopmental disorder. Families with children who have disabilities have an even greater risk of dividing.
The exact cause of ASD remains unknown. Yes, there are at least 100 genes associated with ASD but the impact that the environment has on an individual (from the womb to the world) remains a mystery. Autism is not caused by a particular parenting style or philosophy. Having a parent with ASD does not necessarily equate to the offspring having ASD. Although the prevalence of ASD is rising, science has yet to discover the ‘just right’ conditions that facilitate the expression of ASD in any given individual.
Emotional dysregulation, anxiety, misinterpretation of social cues (including gestures, body language, figures of speech) and sensory overload can all be factors that impact on a parent with ASD. When this is combined with a household wherein a child with ASD is demonstrating explosive aggression, sensory overload, poor frustration tolerance, cognitive rigidity and communication deficits, it would stand to reason that the parenting dynamic would become increasingly more stressful over time.
Finding a sense of balance, feeling productive in parenting roles and learning how to support each other are areas that can be addressed in couples’ therapy by a therapist who understands how to perceive the conflict from both ‘neuro-typical’ and ASD perspectives. Therapy to assist parents in deconstructing old patterns and creating new ways of parenting together as a unified team is one of the many interventions provided by On The Spectrum Therapy Services.