Taking care of your family relationships is as important as taking care of any other aspect of your family life. You can strengthen your family relationships and quality of life by:
- focusing on your family strengths
- building your family’s resilience
- focusing on relationships within your family.
The more you focus on these things, the more they become part of your thinking and behaviour. Building them into your everyday routines helps as well.
All families raising a child with ASD have tough times. But some families also say positive things can come out of the experience. For example, some find it helps them learn humility, patience, compassion, acceptance and respect for others.
Focusing on your family strengths
When times are tough, you can improve your family relationships by shifting the focus to your family’s strengths. This is instead of focusing on the negatives of family life with a child with ASD.
Here are some ideas for identifying and promoting your family strengths:
Think about your family’s interests and the things you do that are fun for everyone. Identify as many as possible and write them down. It can be useful to have a few activities on the list that don’t take up much time. This will ensure that you can still do something together as a family, even if you’re pressed for time. Try to do one thing from your list together every week. It might be as simple as a trip to the park or enjoying a meal together.
- Get everyone in the family to write down one good thing about every other person in the family (for example, a skill or an interest). Include your child with ASD. Do this each night for a week. At the end of the week, share your ideas.
Choose one family member’s strength – it could be time-keeping or being good at getting organised to go out. Think and talk about new ways the family can make the most of this strength during daily routines. Try these ideas out for one week, and then talk about the experience.
Building your family’s resilience
Resilience is the ability to come through hard times feeling that you’re stronger than before. Here are some ideas for promoting your family’s resilience:
Identify family members’ strengths and resources. These can help when you have to face difficulties associated with your child with ASD. For example, your partner might be particularly good at calming your child with ASD. One of your other children might play well with your child with ASD. Be aware of situations when these strengths might come in handy.
Focus on staying connected and committed to each other. This gives everyone in your family a sense of belonging and loyalty to each other. For example, when one of your children explains something about ASD to someone else, this child is showing family loyalty.
Acknowledge your child’s contributions to the family. This means identifying and acknowledging the contributions your child has made to your family. For example, you might notice that your children are more compassionate towards others because of their experience with their sibling with ASD.
- Encourage your family to work together as a group when roles and responsibilities change because of your child’s ASD.
- Work on communicating and problem-solving as a family. When a problem arises, talk it out and find a solution together.
Focusing on relationships within your family
All the members of your family have different relationships with each other. And these relationships are all equally important in building a family that works well.
If you and your family members can maintain healthy and positive relationships with each other, it will really help to make your family strong in times of crisis and in the long term.
To foster the key relationships in your family, you can identify how having a child with ASD affects your relationship with your partner. This is a positive step in dealing constructively with any possible relationship strains caused by your child’s disability.
Although they do experience big challenges, couples in families of children with ASD say that respect for each other and commitment remains strong.
It’s also important to work on fostering positive interactions between you as parents and all of your children, including your child with ASD. You are a role model for how your children interact with each other.
Finally, try to understand the feelings of the siblings of your child with ASD. When you make time to listen and share feelings with your other children, it can help siblings of children with disabilities cope.