Positive family relationships when you have an autistic child
When you’re raising an autistic child or children, working on positive family relationships is as important as taking care of any other aspect of your family life.
That’s because positive family relationships:
- help children feel secure and loved, which gives them confidence to explore their world, try new things and learn
- make it easier for your family to solve problems, resolve conflict and respect differences of opinion
- give children the skills they need to build healthy relationships of their own.
And strong and positive family relationships are enjoyable for their own sake – it just feels good to be part of a warm and loving family.
You can strengthen your family relationships by:
- focusing on relationships with your children and other family members
- focusing on your family’s strengths
- building your family’s resilience.
All the members of your family have different relationships with each other. These relationships are all equally important in building a strong family. If you and your family members maintain healthy and positive relationships with each other, it helps to make your family strong in times of crisis and in the long term.
Your relationship with your partner
For parents with partners, raising an autistic child can bring many positive changes to your relationship. But couples in families with children with additional needs sometimes experience big challenges.
For example, additional medical bills and therapies can cause financial strain. And changing roles and responsibilities can lead to resentment if either you or your partner feel that responsibilities aren’t being shared fairly.
One of the keys to handling these challenges is making time for each other. Enjoyable time together is important for its own sake. But it can also give you opportunities for listening, talking, and working on conflict management if you need to.
It’s also important to:
- share the overall workload of child care, domestic chores and paid work
- seek help when you need it – whether this is formal respite, babysitting or counselling.
Relationships with and among your children
Positive relationships between your autistic child and their siblings are important to positive relationships in your family overall.
You can strengthen sibling relationships by giving all of your children everyday warmth and positive attention. This helps them all to feel special and sets a great example of how they can relate to each other.
If you can find ways for your children to spend time doing fun things together, this is good for their relationships too. This is about finding activities that suit a range of abilities and ages.
It’s also important to nurture your relationship with your typically developing children by spending quality time just with them. This can be as simple as going for a walk together, reading a book at bedtime, or doing a special activity every now and then. Quality time gives you the chance to see things from your children’s points of view. And it sends the message that your typically developing children are important to you too.
Your relationship with extended family
Strong relationships with extended family and friends give children a sense of belonging. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and trusted family friends can also be important carers and role models in your child’s life. And they can be a big support to you too, especially if you’re a single parent.
You might need to give extended family and trusted friends information so they can understand autism and what it means for your child. In time, they’ll find a way to adjust to your child’s needs and their roles in your child’s life.
Focusing on your family’s strengths
Focusing on your family’s strengths is good for your family relationships. Here are some ideas:
- 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. Include some that don’t take up much time, so you can still do something together as a family, even if you’re pressed for time. You could try to do one thing from your list every week. It might be as simple as a trip to the park or a game of cards.
- Get everyone in the family to write down one good thing about every other person in your family. For example, it could be an interest or a skill, like being organised in the mornings. Try doing this every day for a week. At the end of the week, share your ideas.
- Choose one family member’s strength and talk about new ways your 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:
- Focus on staying connected and committed to each other. This gives everyone in your family a sense of belonging. For example, when one of your children explains something about autism to someone else, they’re showing family commitment.
- Acknowledge your autistic child’s contributions to your family. For example, you might notice that your autistic child is good at keeping you all on track during your evening routine.
- Encourage your family to work together as a group when roles and responsibilities need to change. For example, older children might get dinner ready if you’re busy doing a therapy session with your autistic child.
- Work on communicating and problem-solving as a family. When a problem arises, talk it out and find a solution together.
- Keep a positive outlook. Try to notice the times when things are going well in your family. Try to think of autism as a difference that you can build a positive family identity around. For example, you might all wear matching blue t-shirts and do a family fun run to raise awareness of autism.
Families say positive things can come out of difficult experiences. For example, some find difficult experiences help them learn patience, compassion, acceptance and respect for others.