Dealing With Guilt About Your Child's Autism

No matter how much you do for and with your child with autism, you're probably feeling guilty. In part, that's because no one knows what causes or cures the disorder, so you may feel like anything you did could be part of the problem, and anything you do could potentially help.

But guilt can be crippling and can get between you and your ability to be the best parent you can be. Here are some tips to help you take a deep breath and set guilt aside, at least for a little while.


Remember You Didn't Cause the Autism

Mom kissing her son on the cheek

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We know that autism can't be caused by a lack of love. Since we don't know exactly what causes autism, it can be easy to blame yourself. Chances are high, though, that genetics—something you can't control—play a significant role.


You Don't Have to Try Absolutely Everything

What if that new therapy you just read about was the therapy—the one that would have cured your child if only you'd tried it? No one wants to think they denied their child a cure for lifelong disability. But remember that one-on-one time with a loving adult is always a plus—and it's unlikely that that new high-tech "cure" is the next penicillin.


Taking Time to Relax Is Healthy and Necessary

You picked up a book while your child was watching TV—and now you feel guilty. After all, every second count, and you feel like you should be engaging him all day long. It's a nice idea, but even the best parents you know can't be on call for their child 18 hours a day and still stay sane and healthy. Remember that your health and welfare count too. Giving yourself some much-deserved time to relax helps both you and your child in the long run.


It's Ok to Not Spend Every Last Dime on Your Child

You broke down and bought that new jacket, and now you wonder why you didn't spend the money on therapy, autism books, learning toys, or something else for your autistic child. But your child is only one member of your family and you deserve to have special purchases sometimes too. You worked hard for your money, and your child will never miss that one extra session of therapy or book.


Taking Breaks Is Crucial

If you're the primary caregiver for a child with autism, you may be too overwhelmed to give other family members the time and attention they crave. While it really is important to make time for others in your life, it's also okay to ask for a few minutes to regroup, take a walk, or otherwise clear your mind. Your kids and spouse deserve your focused attention, which is something that's tough to give when you're still in "therapy mode."


You Don't Need to Keep up With the Other Families

You may feel like other people do more for their autistic child, but other people are thinner, fitter, richer and have bigger homes too. Comparing yourself to other families can be helpful if those others offer support and ideas, but it can be destructive if it leads to a constant sense of guilt. Remember, you may not know your neighbors' financial or personal resources, which may be much greater than yours.


It's OK to Slow Down

Depending on what you read or who you listen to, you'll hear conflicting advice about what your child needs. More inclusion or less inclusion, more or different therapies, more or different activities, play dates, and so on. But even a typically developing child can get overwhelmed and an autistic child needs fewer transitions, less intensity, and more structure than most. Maybe you do too.


Your Entire Life Doesn't Have to Orbit Around Autism

There's always more to learn. And if you live in a metropolitan area, there are always seminars, support groups and events to attend. But there's more to life than autism, and it's a good idea for both your relationship and your sanity to occasionally hire a sitter and go to the movies with your partner or another activity that's separate from your child instead.


Early Intervention Is Important but Development Is Life-Long

Publicity about the importance of early intervention has caused panic among parents. The suggestion is that there's a window of opportunity early in life and that the window closes sometime around age three. You may feel like you should be working faster and harder with your child with autism. The truth is, though, that kids (and even adults) continue to develop and grow. While early intervention is important, it's not the only key to your child's ongoing success.


Balance Your Life for the Whole Family

It's true that some families give up everything for their autistic child. They mortgage their homes, give up their careers, and end any "extras" to pay for therapies. This is, of course, a valid choice. But not every autistic child needs such a high level of commitment to thrive and grow. Your decision needs to take into account not only your child, but you, your partner, any other children, and the life you've chosen together.

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