The Hidden Epidemic Affecting Autism Parents

autism-depressionI had a message from a fellow autism parent this week. Two words of that message have impacted me greatly. She wrote:

“I’m struggling.”

It is so common for me to hear this. It is the centre piece of every support group, the most common theme on online autism forums, the single most heard phrase when I meet up with people.

For some of those parents, it is so bad that I encourage them to see a doctor for support.

In my years as an autism parent, I have found there is a secret epidemic affecting so many autism parents and it needs to be talked about: We need to talk about depression.

People see a mum crying and think she is having a bad day. What they don’t know about are all the other nights she cried in private and nobody knew.

My eyes are more tuned to see people struggling since I have walked that path. I know what it is like to look at my child and worry for his future. I know what it is like to feel there is no hope. I recognise that feeling of failure when you realise your child is just not developing as they should. I know the pain of taking your child to hospital when they should be outside playing with friends.

It is isolating when your child has autism or special needs, and it is OK to admit that.

Sadly, society expects us to be positive, upbeat and encouraging, and I often see parents who are so emotionally overwhelmed, so sleep deprived, so beaten down by the system, that they have little hope.

When you have a child who struggles in school every day, a child who won’t eat or has no friends, a child who is being bullied for being different, or who cannot play in a park because the equipment is unsuitable for their needs, how would you feel? If your child was denied the support they need, or could not communicate, or was living in pain every day, would you not be heartbroken?

Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of depression among parents of children with autism?

While so many are on medication, and this can be vital, we as a society also need to recognise that autism parenting is exhausting and draining. What about better support and understanding for our children, better care for those in society who are full-time carers, and better training for staff so they can better meet the needs of the most vulnerable?

What about a society that is less prone to judge and quicker to encourage?

The current epidemic of depression among autism parents is very concerning. I am even more worried that continual budget cuts and ignorance in society are breeding not only depression among the parents, but sadly also among the siblings, and even the special needs children themselves. They all struggle with the same issues.

We need to recognise this epidemic and do something about it now.

Don’t ever be afraid to tell someone you are struggling. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Together, we can support each other and help make a better future for the parents and our children.

A version of this first appeared on FireFly Friends.

Miriam Gwynne

Founder at Faith Mummy
Miriam lives in Scotland with her husband and twins. Trained as a teacher, she started blogging in 2013 when her son was diagnosed with the genetic condition nf1. Both twins have autism and Miriam describes her life as "sometimes challenging, mostly hectic, but always full of love."