Parents Of Children With Autism: Dealing With Anxiety


I knew a mom once who refused to wait in the lobby during her child’s social skills group. She HAD to watch the group and specifically her child in the group setting. She insisted that she be the exception to the facilities policy.

At the time, I felt she was being way too demanding and not at all flexible. The facility was asking her to let them take care of facilitating the social group without the distraction of a parent in the room, but she refused to accept their policy. I felt she was being rude and pushy and controlling.

Years later, now that I think of that mom, and many others, I think she might have not only had control issues but anxiety as well.

Why do I think that?

Because I now understand it better than I did.

Still, I have never understood the kind of behavior that that parent had displayed. In all the years I have been to that facility, she remains the only parent that I can recall who I felt behaved badly.

But, was she behaving that way due to anxiety? I believe it is common for us special needs parents to have more anxiety than parents of typical kids.

Why do I think so?

Parents of typical kids have a lot to deal with, don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting their commitment or their parental responsibilities. They have to deal with all of the “typical” child-rearing stuff – hectic schedules, homework galore, way too many computer games, demands from families and friends, and, in general, our fast-paced world.

That’s a lot for typical parents to deal with. Now, toss in autism.

Which means you’ve just added IEPs, IPPs, meetings with facilitators, emailing concerns to your child’s service coordinator, talking with the aides, planning for future services or opting out of current ones, going to autism-related functions, and probably a ton of stuff I haven’t mentioned.

Oh, and don’t forget dealing with your child and their autistic needs, behaviors, and challenges on a daily basis.

Now, all of that can lead to parental anxiety.

How do parents of a special needs child get anxiety?

It’s a lot of work to raise a typical child – raising a special needs kid is even harder.

As I mentioned above, our kids have special needs that have to be met in order to help them through this autism maze. And, you are the parent, you are their advocate, and you are responsible for ALL of it.

All of this adds up to stress for special needs parents. Lots of stress.

Plus, our kids have a tendency to have their own anxiety issues. They are attempting to survive in a noisy, confusing world and that creates anxiety. They have their own stress to deal with.

And, their stress adds to our stress. Stress and anxiety can rub off.

Returning to that kid whose mother HAD to view his social group: What if she was like that all the time, in every situation? Does that kid have his own anxiety due to his parent’s behavior?

I remember witnessing a few arguments between this mother and members of the facility, and they took place right in front of her child.

This issue can be a back and forth – parent is stressed and it rubs off on child, or child affects parent who is busy dealing with coordinating their child’s programs and services and that gets  overwhelming.

You live with your child, don’t you? The back and forth can be exhausting.

Next week, I’ll continue with my anxiety discussion! In the meantime…


To Find Kimberly Kaplan:

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Twitter: @tipsautismmom



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