Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Effect on relationships

Here parents talk about the effect of their experiences on their relationship with their partner, with their wider family and with friends. Effects on siblings and on parents themselves are discussed further in ‘Siblings and ‘Effect on parents.

While some parents felt that their relationship with their partners had grown stronger, others had grown apart from their partner as a result of never being able to spend time alone together, having had years of sharing their bed with their children (see ‘Eating and sleeping) or because they had very different views on how to bring up their children. As one parent said, “First of all we were blaming ourselves, that we were doing something awful to him… I was too soft, he was too tough or I was too soft and he was too tough. We were just pulling each other apart and blaming each other”. Several marriages had ended in divorce or separation.
One of the key problems parents discussed was that they could not go out and spend time together because of their difficulty in getting babysitters. One mother thought that babysitters were frightened of her son because they felt out of their depth with his intelligence and because he could become very emotional (see ‘Communication). Another parent whose relationship had recently ended said that she had used respite care to support her while her husband was away on work, rather than using it to provide cover for her and her husband to go out together; they had grown apart because of this.
Some of the lone parents described feeling isolated and lonely. For some however, being single reduced tensions because they could focus on their children rather than accommodating another adult as well.

Wider family
The responses of wider families varied considerably. Some were well supported by their families who were involved in the children’s lives (see 'Support groups'). A few parents thought that other family members were accepting because they themselves were so positive about the experience; “We have always accepted really the autism and just the fact that our boys are different”.

Other parents said family members did not really understand autism; they met only once or twice a year. As one mother said, “It has always been a bit of a dreaded word in my family, you know, it is still very much the ‘A’ word. They don’t talk about it”. Another said, “The rest of the family seem to think he is some kind of mental nut job so I tend not to talk about it really”. Part of the difficulty arose from the infrequent contact between family members which meant that relatives didn't really get to know the children well.

Some grandparents thought that the children would “grow out of it” and that the parents were over protective or that the children were either eccentric or naughty. As one mother commented; “I suppose elderly relatives find it difficult and I think that to some degree the perception is that autism is just an excuse for bad behaviour.”
Those parents whose wider family were not particularly supportive or who did not engage with the children, felt lonely and isolated. Lack of understanding by people outside of the family was often reinforced this feeling (see ‘Going out’).

Some parents had developed very good friendships through their involvement with support groups, others described how some friendships had suffered because people found it hard to understand autism. One mother, for example, felt hurt that she was left out when her friends got together with their children.
Some parents were friends with other parents of children on the spectrum and enjoyed being able to relax with them and not worry about their children’s behaviour or actions. This is discussed further in ‘Support groups’.

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Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated November 2010.



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