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If you ask any parent what their most unforgettable memories are, most would probably include the experience of finding out they were parents-to-be. Many parents can recall the moment they first learned that they would have the opportunity to build their own family—that single, defining moment that led them to their children. However, like all things in life, it doesn’t come without its share of difficulties.

From changing diapers to sacrificing a good amount of sleep to monitor the baby, parenthood isn’t easy. It requires genuine care, love, responsibility, and most importantly, commitment to become selfless for the family’s future.

5 Ways Family Counseling Can Help Autism Spectrum Parents

Beyond the usual experiences associated with parenthood, being a parent of an autistic child brings unique joys and challenges. It can be scary—not because you’re frightened of your child but because you’re afraid of how other people will treat them and how their future will turn out. 

It can be overwhelming, given all the narrative and information circulating on the internet about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because you only want the best for your child, having these concerns is normal, especially in the beginning.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

To better navigate around ASD, it’s better first to understand what it is. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a cluster of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the communication, learning, and social capacities of those who have it.

Autism is a spectrum. While symptoms may have similarities, no two people with autism spectrum disorders will have the same conditions and experiences. It’s also important to note that while ASD has no cure, it doesn’t mean people on the spectrum are doomed for the rest of their lives.

If anything, the stigma around ASD is rooted in the lack of research around it in the past. But since there’s now rich interdisciplinary research from all related medical fields, people now have a better understanding of ASD.

What Is Family Counseling?

Family counseling or family therapy is an approach where the family members are counseled to identify underlying issues and create a systematic plan of action to address them. Each family member looks into their role in the family unit with the problems they’re facing, and the counselor guides each one on how they can help resolve these issues.

Family counseling is usually done to address emotional, mental, and psychological concerns that directly impact some members or the entire family. These concerns usually arise from the family itself, its dynamics, or harmful interactions, among others.

It’s noteworthy to know that family counselors help each member become one another’s support system. That’s why, when it comes to having children on the spectrum, you don’t have to go through it alone.

How Can Family Counseling Help Autism Spectrum Parents

There are all kinds of help out there to get you started. The government offers free or subsidized family counseling, or you can go to a private family center like Portneuf Valley Family Center.

And while it’s true ASD is uncurable, it doesn’t mean it’s not manageable. As such, here are five ways family counseling can help autism spectrum parents.

Beyond the usual experiences associated with parenthood, being a parent of an autistic child brings unique joys and challenges. It can be scary—not because you're frightened of your child but because you're afraid of how other people will treat them and how their future will turn out. #autism #autismparenting

To get acclimated with the diagnosis

Hearing your doctor diagnose your child with ASD can be highly overwhelming. Your mind can immediately get flooded with thoughts about your child’s future and all the challenges that having a child on the spectrum entails. Eventually, you might feel guilty that you have these kinds of thoughts regarding your child.

Remember that your thoughts are valid and well-placed. After all, what matters is what you’ll choose to do after. Family counselors can help you understand and acknowledge your feelings, thereby giving you the more emotional capacity to raise your child.

Moreover, since your child is on the spectrum, what others may advise you or the things you’ve read on the internet may not help you entirely get the information you need about your kid’s condition. Family counselors are well-equipped and trained to know the nuances of ASD. Hence, they can craft a tailored plan that you can use with your child.

Parents are also not given an official diagnosis yet because of their child’s age. However, even with this ‘unofficial’ diagnosis or certain precautionary dialogues here and there, these parents can already overthink how they should help their children cope. Fortunately, family counselors can help you ease into the reality of ASD, especially when your child reaches a more appropriate age for an official diagnosis.

To prepare your entire family

Being a child’s parent on the spectrum is one thing, but being a sibling to one is another story. Parents or guardians are adults who, despite the shock, are still equipped with the emotional capacity to accept ASD. However, younger children may have more difficulty understanding their sibling’s condition.

Family counselors can help the neurotypical members of the family learn more about ASD. This is extremely helpful for two reasons. First, their neurodiverse siblings can have a safer and more accepting environment to thrive and grow. Second, neurotypical children can become an external asset for other neurodiverse children.

In the US alone, 1 in 54 children has ASD. This means that the more neurotypical people become educated about ASD, the higher the likelihood of people with ASD being surrounded by well-educated people about the condition. This can make parents with neurodiverse children become more at ease regarding their kids’ social life.

Beyond the usual experiences associated with parenthood, being a parent of an autistic child brings unique joys and challenges. It can be scary—not because you're frightened of your child but because you're afraid of how other people will treat them and how their future will turn out. #autism #autismparenting

To aid you in being a part of your child’s life

Despite how well-informed family counselors are, they can only do so much with each counseling session. Outside the session, it’s all up to you.

While counselors can help you navigate around ASD, as a parent, you’re still the primary caregiver who will stick by your child no matter what happens. This means you should try your best to use the knowledge and skills you’ve gained and developed to become your child’s best ally.

For instance, your family counselor orients you of autism symptoms in girls. While it could be a combination of unique and textbook symptoms, your child will most likely exhibit a nuanced list of ASD indicators. As a parent, you can consider these and incorporate them into how you’ll interact with your daughter. 

In addition, given the case-to-case nature of ASD’s symptomology, you’re the only one who’s in the most advantageous position in their life to observe and understand them—together with their symptoms and triggers as well.

Having autism spectrum disorder, especially among young children, can be highly stressful. Since they have a unique way of perceiving the world, being on the spectrum can be lonely and frightening. Knowing that someone is there who understands their extraordinary way of viewing the world can help put them at ease.

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To save your marriage

This may be a sore spot, but some couples divorce after learning that their child is on the spectrum. This isn’t to say that the leading cause is the diagnosis; researchers who have studied these relationships point to ‘weak’ marriages where the news only serves as the final straw. Regardless, having a neurodiverse child can become pretty daunting to couples.

Family counselors can help you and your partner understand that your child needs both of you more than ever. They can help you be prepared and acknowledge your roles as the child’s guardians. Your emotional support is one thing, but fostering a loving environment where each house member is cared for can provide a more positive experience for the child.

Moreover, your counselor can also guide you in learning about the potential cost of having a neurodiverse child. Raising one doesn’t have to be expensive, but a child with ASD does need to visit therapists, which will still cost a penny.

Being informed about these can help the couple go through the financial, emotional, and psychological factors that can potentially impair their marriage.

To help you help others

As mentioned, having more people become educated about ASD is a critical point in creating a safer and more accepting society where everyone can live safely and grow. Undergoing family counseling can also help you become equipped to educate other people about the general information about ASD.

It’s not about becoming an expert. Neither is it becoming a counselor yourself. It’s simply about being a community member who’s accountable and responsible for creating a safe space for neurodiverse people.

It may be a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that there are still people out there who are unaccepting of people with ASD. But as more people join hands in advocating for those in the spectrum, the cause will eventually become more widespread.

There will come a time when parents will no longer be terrified of how others might treat their neurodiverse children. Soon, people will become more willing to go past people’s diagnoses and know them as a person.

Bottom line:

Whether your child is neurotypical or neurodiverse, being a parent requires unconditional love. Loving and accepting all your child’s personality, quirks, and conditions (or a lack thereof) is the first step in becoming a good parent.

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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