An unspoken truth about being an autism parent

An unspoken truth about being an autism parent

There is something special – almost miraculous - about having a baby. 

The moment you first hold your baby in your arms you know you would give your life to protect your child.  It’s almost as though you suddenly come to realise what pure love truly is. 

So when the year, month, day arrives that you receive the formal diagnosis that your child has AUTISM - you may be like me - and feel like your world has been hit by an unwelcome gigantic meteorite from outer space.

I still remember the long, long drive home from the specialist’s office after we were bluntly told our son has autism.  I was so angry!  Angry and confused for lots of reasons, like:

  • Why would the doctor think that about our son?
  • Why doesn’t she have any answers to questions like “would our son ever speak?”, “would he ever be able to go to school?”, “will he ever be able to say ‘mum’, ‘dad’, ‘I love you?’”
  • Why does our child need to face so many challenges so young?

Most of all, I felt angry that I could see our son struggling, and didn’t know how I could help him.

I also remember on that long, long car ride home that I looked over to my partner and he was so, so silent.  He didn’t say a word.  He was so lost in his thoughts.  It was a strange car ride – I had endless questions and he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) talk. 

I’m certain now that it was in that very moment that the seeds of depression had first taken hold of my partner.  My very strong, positive, “half-glass full” partner.

Since my son’s diagnosis, I have gone on to meet lots of families with children with autism, and am amazed that so many of the mothers (and a few fathers) have openly acknowledged that they are either seeing a psychologist or have seen one for depression.  

Now, I have absolutely no formal research to back this, but I have to wonder whether it’s more than just coincidence that so many of the families I have met on my travels have someone in their family who experienced depression while caring for a child with autism.  And if it is common, I must say that it is very understandable.  Raising a child with special needs can be very challenging, isolating, exhausting, frustrating and very expensive.  On top of that, families often have to deal with a community that sometimes lacks understanding and passes judgements.

Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, and according to Beyond Blue, is “unlikely to simply go away on their own”. 

Here are some typical warning signs for depression:

  1. Withdrawing from family, friends and generally isolating yourself
  2. Not enjoying activities once enjoyed
  3. Not being able to concentrate or get things done
  4. Feeling overwhelmed, guilty, irritable and losing your confidence
  5. Constantly feeling run down and sick
  6. Not being able to sleep
  7. Having no appetite or a significant change in appetite
  8. Feeling worthless, at fault or that people would be better off without you

Being a parent can have its challenging moments!  However, parenting a child with autism involves overcoming one challenge (great or small) after another.  For this reason, it’s very easy to overlook caring for ourselves, and overlook making time to nurture our relationships.

Sometimes preventing or overcoming some types of depression and anxiety will involve simple steps.  Some of these steps may include: doing physical exercise; having a regular “me” time where someone looks after your children so you can go out for a coffee or movie or catch-up with friends; talking about your feelings with a trusted peer; or making a point to spend some time going for a walk in the sunshine.  There is also types of depression and anxiety that will really benefit from having some support from a psychologist.

What is very important for all of us to remember is that we play an important role in our children’s lives – therefore we need to make sure that we take care of ourselves so that we can be the best version of ourselves for our children.

If you need more information about depression or anxiety, please speak to a psychologist or refer to the Beyond Blue website at:

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