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Will Parents of Children with Autism Fall Victim to Stress-Related Disorders?

By March 26, 2007

I had a long conversation with Ed Arranga, creator of Autism One (much more on the organization and conference in an upcoming blog!). As part of that conversation, we shared our experience of meeting parents with children on the autism spectrum who have dedicated every moment of their lives to providing services, support and care to their children with autism. Not infrequently, their dedication involves sleeplessness, time away from home and family, and personal, emotional, financial and physical sacrifices. Ed noted that he would not be surprised to see a veritable epidemic of autism parents (mostly moms) suffering from stress-related disorders. Based on my own experience, I agreed.

While every child deserves parents' time, energy, commitment, love, and - at times - even sacrifice, it seems to me that no parent will be at her or his best when exhausted, frightened, or physically stretched to the breaking point. Surely even the parents of children with disabilities deserve time to relax, reflect, and even get in a few minutes of fun. And surely even the siblings, parents and friends of children on the autism spectrum deserve time and energy dedicated to their needs, wants, and pleasures.

But there seems to be, at least in the United States, a culture of pressure that pushes mothers (and fathers) of even typical children to the brink of exhaustion. Rounds of sports, lessons, activities, play dates, and test prep leave families drained of energy and cash. That same culture seems to be magnified a dozen times for the parents of children with autism. There always seems to be another therapy to try, another issue to address, another challenge to plan for, another bill to be paid, another behavior to cope with, another therapist to meet with... and on and on and on... And, with no research or gold standard to point the way to success, there's always the sense that a parent could have - and should have - done more.

Are you - or do you know - a parent of a child with autism who has devoted everything to that child? What's your take on such a level of sacrifice? How much time, money, energy and sacrifice is enough - and how much is too much?

For more on the subject of parents and stress, you may want to read:

March 26, 2007 at 2:19 pm
(1) Julie Boehme says:

I have a one-word answer to this question: “DUH!”

March 26, 2007 at 3:12 pm
(2) Anna Geddes says:

Ask other parents what is available. In Britain, you can get 4 whole weeks of respite care. My son goes to an activity camp for people with disabilities. Unless you know what is available you can’t ask for it. I found out he was entitled to one night out a fortnight with an adult supervising.

March 28, 2007 at 7:33 am
(3) Jen says:

I have an 11yo asperger’s son. Add to that…I’m a single parent. His father is beleived to have some sort of ASD so his influence on the weekends creates triple trouble. Without family being supportive I can certainly see why any primary caregiver of an ASD child will suffer in some way. All I have is my faith. It’s what keeps me going everyday…and very supportive bosses. Thank God for FMLA or I would have been fired a long time ago!

March 30, 2007 at 1:41 pm
(4) sherri says:

The way the “system” treats families is far worse and a cause of greta stress for anyone…the autism is then a piece of cake!Between monitoring doctors, ins.co agruing what, who, how is that covered, school,speech, ot, afterschool personnel,playdates… trying to teach during soc outing in community,oh and the “help” that is out there, more paper work and denials becuase we do not “fit” thier criteria…..I am exhausted just writing this… (lol)


June 21, 2007 at 7:17 pm
(5) xiknhtmxma says:

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June 28, 2007 at 11:06 am
(6) Pete says:

“Surely even the parents of children with disabilities deserve time to relax, reflect, and even get in a few minutes of fun.”

this sounds like a fast food ad: “you deserve a break today”.

For most of us it’s a choice:
1. I deserve a break OR
2. My child deserves a chance.

I don’t think you can have both. Like the T-shirt says: “I have Autism, get out of my way! I don’t have a moment to spare”.

March 19, 2008 at 3:13 am
(7) Sim says:

Yes It’s really essential for a child to have his/her parents’ time, energy, commitment, love, and – at times – even sacrifice and this responsibility becomes double If you are alone to take care of your kid.
Being a single parent is really to tough to cope up as yesterday I ws reading an article http://www.octanmen.com/articleDetail/215/The-making-of-a-Single-dad.htm
You have to beware of many things.


January 20, 2009 at 12:59 pm
(8) dore isabelle says:

Bonjour, nous sommes français, mais nous vivons à st martin caraîbes. Nous vivions en france, mais, nous sommes partis car, dans la métropole, il ni a pas d’aides aux parents mais, par contre, les services sociaux français ne veulent que vous enlever vos enfants aux tribunal en vous accusant d’être responsable de l’état de votre enfant. Nous sommes partis de france car, les gens sont méchants. Mais, il ni à pas d’aides, et, quand votre enfant qui est autiste lourd, vous casse tout dans la maison et, que vous ne pouvez pas travailler pour le garder. Il est impossible de joindre les deux bouts.
Je ne peux pas faire de crédit à la banque, je n’aie pas assé d’argent. Je doit r’acheter des portes, des fenêtres, une baie vitrée, un frigo, une cuisinère, un micro-onde, 6 chaises, une table, un canapé, une télé,le lave vaisselle et son lit.Comme vous le voyez, il casse vraiment tout, et, je n’ai pas d’argent, il ni a pas d’aides. J’ai acheté un frigo et une cuisinière d’occasion, mais, je n’ai pas pu payer le loyer ce mois-ci à cause de cela. Comment faire?
C’est très dur car, en plus, il cri très fort pour rien à longueur de journées.
Voilà comment vivent les parents d’enfants autistes. J’espère que vous pourrez traduire ce texte, mais, je doute que cela intéresse qui que ce soit de savoir quelles sont les difficultées que cela entraine. Si je travaillais, j’aurais de l’argent, mais, je ne peut pas travailler, donc, voilà, nous sommes seuls.

February 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm
(9) Ressie Popowicz says:

My name is Ressie Popowicz and I am currently a student at Gwynedd-Mercy College. I am conducing my master’s thesis on specific stressors of parents of children with autism. In addition, I am conducting research to find a correlation between stressors and available supports for these parents.

If you are a parent of a child with autism, I would greatly appreciate if you could take a few moments out of your time to fill out this survey. I would like to collect all surveys by Tuesday, March 3rd. If you have any questions or comments regarding my research please email me at:


Please fill out the survey by clicking the following link below:


**Please forward this email to any parents of children with autism or groups that you can in helping me to collect valuable data.**

Thank you for your time in advance,
Ressie Popowicz

March 23, 2010 at 7:04 am
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September 8, 2011 at 3:54 am
(11) Burt says:

Every parent needs a break (of course). But I do take exception to the idea that a parent ‘sacrificing’ for a child is a big deal. Really? What were you expecting when you brought another human being into this world… a parade? You are not ‘sacrificing’ anything. You are simply doing what you promised to do when you had a baby; to take care of it and put its well being before your own.

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