Welcome back to my blog series where I discuss loneliness and autism. So far, I have talked about how autistic women experience loneliness, loneliness amongst working professionals, and the problems surrounding loneliness in autistic teens. Today, I want to talk about the loneliness you may feel as an autism parent.
As an autism parent, your primary focus is on helping your autistic child succeed and thrive. Often, this means putting your needs on the back burner and ignoring your feelings. But, when your child is suffering, you are too. You internalize their struggles and pain. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Being an Autism Parent Takes a Lot of Time and Energy
Because you are so focused on the special needs of your autistic teen, you may find that you have little time to do anything else. Including socializing. You may have found yourself forgetting about or even ignoring social opportunities with your friends and loved ones. Without knowledge of what it means to be a special needs parent, your friends and family may feel rejected and hurt. What’s worse, over time, they may stop reaching out altogether. Then, even when you do have an opportunity to talk to them, you find yourself having little to talk about outside of the autism bubble. If your friends and family don’t have a child or teen on the spectrum, they likely don’t have much to contribute when you bring up autism topics. This may make conversations challenging and even awkward, causing you to avoid them altogether. This can cause profound feelings of loneliness.
As an Autism Parent, Comparison Hurts
Furthermore, it’s hard not to feel sad when your friends with neurotypical kids talk about their child’s success. It can be so hard to hear that your best friends’ daughter was crowned homecoming queen when your daughter didn’t even get asked to the dance. It can really hurt to hear how their child is succeeding in areas that your child struggles in because of their autism. As a parent, you only want the best for your child so it’s natural to feel sad for yourself and for your child. But, this may make you withdraw from your social groups and friends to avoid feeling this hurt. And this can cause you to feel even more alone.
Even amongst other autism parents, you may feel like you don’t fit in
Some parent autism support groups include both parents of gifted children and parents of children with intellectual disabilities. Though your challenges as a parent with a high-functioning autistic child are real and valid, you may feel less comfortable expressing your concerns or complaints around parents who have children with more severe needs. Naturally, parents in these groups may quietly make comparisons. These sorts of comparisons can be harmful. They can have an invalidating and isolating effect.
When autism parents can’t even find support amongst other autism parents, that even furthers the sense of isolation and loneliness they feel. This can lead them to question where they fit in and even their parenting skills in general.
Autism parents often experience criticism
When a child or teen has high-functioning autism, their disability is not always abundantly apparent. You can’t walk up to them and know they’re on the autism spectrum. So, many of their autistic behaviors are misunderstood by neurotypical parents. Sadly, causes autism parents to receive criticism.
Parents who only have neurotypical kids can be quick to give advice on how you should parent your child with autism. Yet, they really do not understand your child’s needs and challenges. They are not in tune with your child the way you are. You understand your child’s sensitivities, you understand their emotional pain from being bullied or not having friends. The tips and strategies often given by these parents likely will not work for you. This further makes you feel isolated. You don’t feel like other parents really get how hard it is to parent your child. Being criticized by others can also make you doubt yourself as a parent. You might find you compare yourself to parents of neurotypical kids. And, feel like you are not a good parent.
In many ways, your life as an autism parent may mirror your autistic child’s experiences
If your teen is on the autism spectrum they likely have experienced feelings of loneliness. Especially as they reach late elementary school and middle school when they realize they are different from their classmates. They may have even experienced criticism and been told they need to change to fit in, just like how other parents have criticized you and insinuated you need to be a better parent. These are just a few of the many ways your life as an autism parent parallels the life of your child. So, this puts you in a unique position to empathize with their pain and struggles. And this empathy can really help your child learn how to combat their loneliness and overcome the mental health challenges it causes. You can normalize your child’s feelings even if you don’t have autism.
Feeling accepted by their parent is a powerful feeling to an autistic child, teen, or young adult. When they feel loved for who they are and their uniqueness they will be more likely to feel self-confident. This empowers them to reach their full potential.
Tips for validating and supporting your high-functioning autistic child:
- Give your autistic child your full attention, especially when they are talking about painful topics
- Help your teen recognize and be proud of their unique strengths and abilities.
- Normalize weakness. Remind your autistic son or daughter that everyone struggles with something.
- Teach your child how to self-advocate so they can explain their struggles and tell other people what they need to be successful
- Encourage your teen to build relationships with other autistic peers
Tips for Fighting Loneliness as an Autism Parent:
- Make time for self-care and your favorite hobbies or social activities. You might feel like you don’t have time for self-care. Even focusing on 5-mins a day for self-care can help.
- Disclose your struggles to your friends and family so they can understand what you’re experiencing. Make sure to tell them how they can support you through hard times or challenging situations.
- Find a support group of autism parents who also have high-functioning autistic children
Support for Autism Parents and Teens
You don’t have to feel alone. I offer several different online autism therapy options in California to empower autism parents and their teens.
Gifted Teen with Autism and Caregiver Group:
My online gifted teen with autism and caregiver group is offered to high-functioning neurodiverse teens and their caregivers as long as they live in the state of California. In this group, I separate the teens and parents so each party has their own space to discuss the issues that matter most to them. It also helps autistic teens learn how to self-advocate so they don’t have to depend on their parents as much. In this group, your teen will learn valuable social skills, how to self-advocate, and how to manage sensory overload and anxiety.
Individual Online Autism Therapy
I offer individual online autism therapy for teens. During therapy, your autistic teen will learn and practice various social skills and coping techniques. They will also be given the opportunity to discuss the issues that matter most to them.
Online Parent Coaching:
I offer online parent coaching to help autism parents navigate the challenges they are experiencing with their neurodiverse child. In therapy, you will be given a safe space to discuss these issues and I will provide feedback on things you can to minimize
Online Autism Parent Support Group
I began running a free online parent support group for autism parents in the wake of COVID-19. This support group is designed to help parents overcome the challenges they’re experiencing with their autistic teen.
Begin Online Autism Therapy Services in California.
I understand how stressful and lonely it can be to be an autism parent. So, I have designed several groups to help you navigate tough situations with your autistic child and meet other parents with similar struggles. To learn more about the many ways I can help you and your child thrive at my autism therapy clinic in Palo Alto, CA, follow these steps:
- Get in touch with Open Doors Therapy to schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation with Dr. Tasha Oswald.
- Like my autism therapy clinic on Facebook.
- Sign up to receive my newsletter to learn more about neurodiversity in the Bay Area.
Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
At my Palo Alto based autism counseling center I help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am providing all our autism therapy services via telehealth. I offer many different autism therapy services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. And, I run several social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, autistic teens transitioning to college (offered in the summer only), teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact my autism therapy clinic for more information on my services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.