The fear factor
It all boils down to fear! If I don’t do ....then.... will happen and I don’t want that to happen. I am afraid of the potential consequences. I will be rejected, I will be hurt, I will loose my house, I will look like an idiot, I will die, I won’t be loved...... the survival instinct in all animals teaches us to perceive danger and to either neutralise it or run away from it.
Adrenaline is a hormone that is produced when we get anxious. It is sometimes called the fright, fight or flight hormone. Anxiety plays a big role in ASD. Many (but not all) symptoms relating to sensory issues can be attributed to anxiety. Do you become sound sensitive when you are extremely stressed and anxious, just as an example? Most people do! I have found that many parents with children with autism also struggle with anxiety. Some have struggled with it even before their children were born suggesting a genetic connection. A study in Saudi Arabia that had 100 participants looked at depression and anxiety in parents and caregivers of children with autism.(1) It was found there was a significantly higher overall incidence of anxiety and depression in the parents and caregivers compared to the control group. Another study conducted with parents of children with ASD living on Gold Coast of Australia, found more than half the parents were severely anxious and two thirds were clinically depressed. (2)
The stress of life for many parents is unbearable, and research has shown it is even worse for parents of children with Autism. Confrontations as a result of the child with ASD, places marriages under pressure. One study (3) reports one in three families affected by ASD are lone parents and another (4) indicated 17% of these families were lone parents, compared to the UK national average of 10%. Some parents resort to going to support groups or counselling to talk about their feelings, while others have resorted to trying to find solutions to each of the individual problems. Studies have shown that parents using active problem solving strategies show less distress than those using a passive approach(5). In terms of coping strategies, they are often divided into two categories, problem-focused strategies which aim to solve the problem, or emotion-focused strategies which aim to manage or reduce the associated feelings of distress such as denial, avoidance, self blame or wishful thinking (6). Research has shown that parental distress and family functioning impact on a child in numerous ways including their social, cognitive and behavioural development (7)(8).
The child’s stress
As mentioned above anxiety is linked to the fright, fight or flight hormone. Children can become mute or not be able to process information as a result of the ‘fright’. This is typically seen when a child is asked a difficult question or too many questions, and they are unable to answer you. Some suddenly display challenging behaviours. These challenging behaviours are often because they want to avoid or escape what they perceive as difficult or a threat. This could include being asked to do something, or even just a change in activity. Children with ASD often find the world unpredictable and scary. These behaviours need to be analysed to determine the exact triggers and the functions (reasons why they occur) before a strategy to help and reduce the unwanted behaviours.
There is help for both parents and children who face this immense pressure on a daily basis. Some interventions are definitely more effective than others, and would be money well spent as one cannot put a price on quality of life. Many of the effective therapies may be costly but they are short term, and give a life time of benefits and save money in the long run. Athene can help both parents and children to improve their quality of life by providing solutions and decreasing the pressure they face. 1 Corinthians 13 speaks about what love is about- how it is patient and kind. Truely understanding the person and their behaviours is the best place to start. To conclude, the last words of the song ‘Under pressure’ beg us to love ourselves and love our children....
Insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking
Can't we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can't we give love that one more chance?
Why can't we give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?..
'Cause love's such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care forThe people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Almansour MA, Alateeq MA, Alzahrani MK, Algeffari MA, Alhomaidan HT. (2013) Depression and anxiety among parents and caregivers of autistic spectral disorder children Neurosciences (Riyadh). 2013 Jan;18(1):58-63.
Bitsika, Vicki; Sharpley, Christopher F. (2004) Stress, Anxiety and Depression Among Parents of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, Vol 14(2), Dec,4, 151-161.
Bromley, J. (2002) The health and social care needs of families and/or carers supporting a child with autistic spectrum disorders. Manchester Health Authority. Manchester.
Broach, S. (2003) Autism: Rights in Reality. London: The National Autistic Society.
Sloper, P., Knussen, C., Turner, S., Cunningham, C. (1991) Factors related to stress and satisfaction with life in families of children with Down’s Syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 655-676.
Chasson, G.S., Harris, G.E. and Neely, W. (2007) Cost Comparison of Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention and Special Education for Children with Autism, Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16, 401-413.7.
Tonmanil, S., Harris, G.E. and Hawkins, J. (2004) the relationship between behaviours exhibited by children with autism and maternal stress. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 29(1), 16-26.
Wallander ,J. L., Varni, J. W (1998) Effects of paediatric chronic physical disorders on child and family adjustment. Journal of Child Psycholgy and Psychiatry, 39, 29-46.