Living and coping with an autistic child may result in an increased vulnerability for members of the family including parents, grandparents and siblings.

“Families with children who have ASD often experience high stress levels as a consequence of their caregiving responsibilities, the child’s cognitive impairment and the need for long-term support… Informal social support is important to absorb family stress. It is important to consider the needs of siblings of children and young people with ASD.”

SIGN 145 (2016) page 41

It is important to recognise the impact having an autistic person in the family can have on relationships. There may be many positive aspects alongside some challenges. If a member of the family has difficulty with communication and social and emotional skills this may cause stress within the family.

Parents may be at differing stages of acceptance of their child’s diagnosis, have varying levels of knowledge and understanding of autism, and may have widely differing views on approaches, interventions and educational provision for their child. Parents concerns are often as much about their child’s social experiences within the school environment as about academia. Many of these concerns are sensory and structural related issues that if not addressed can lead to a build-up in anxiety and stress for the child at school or at home.

Whilst many autistic learners will be coping well at school, many ‘everyday’ events such as a raised voice from a teacher can have a significant impact on how they express their feelings at home. As the child or young person holds in the anxieties and stresses of their day, when they return home they may no longer be able to contain themselves. This can be extremely difficult for the whole family as they are often the target of pent up frustrations. Schools can often view these ‘difficulties’ as only ‘home issues’, although it has been prior events that have been the catalyst. Parents can feel that the link between school and home life is not fully acknowledged, recognised or understood and this may have an impact on family relationships and relationships between the family and school.

Factors for practitioners to consider

Parents or carers may at times:

  • Feel they or their child is being judged by others whether it be people in the street, other parents, their own family or staff
  • See a different side of their child than professionals do
  • Feel isolated from the support of others, e.g. other parents, families
  • Feel they are not being listened to
  • Have significant constraints on their time
  • Struggle to get the help they need 
  • Live with significantly higher levels of stress
  • Can sometimes struggle to follow things through even when they try hard to do so
  • Feel that others don’t always understand or support their child in the way they should
  • Have less in the way of support systems than professionals do.