How does having a child with autism affect your relationship?

Kinderling News & Features

All parents need to nurture their couple relationship, but for parents of autistic children, maintaining your connection is vital.

Susan Marden, Senior Speech Pathologist at One on One Children's Therapy told Kinderling Conversation that having a child with an autism diagnosis can have a huge impact - that’s predominately negative – on your relationship.

“All your attention tends to go onto your child; and you’re thinking about therapy and what you’ve got to do during the day," says Susan. "In my experience, the parents and partners that spend time on themselves and each other, and potentially go to counselling, make a big difference to this outcome.”

Listen to Susan Marden on Kinderling Conversation

The invisible load of the parent/carer

"Housework and caring for children can become invisible," says Susan. "If you don’t see it being done, you don't understand the work that goes into it. For carers of children with autism, that can add up to 20-30 hours a week when you include psychologist, speech therapist ..."

For families living with an autism diagnosis, one parent often ends up carrying most of this load alone. And when the responsibility for care falls on one person's shoulders, it often means they're also the ones explaining what's going on to their partner.

"Share the load whenever you can, and that also means understanding the therapy side," says Susan. "The partner who works is encouraged to come into a therapy session and parent training session, at least once a month. This way they have the opportunity to understand what is going on, and how to best support their child and their partner.”

 Find a way to prioritise couple time and family time

Susan recommends you talk to people in your life about what’s going on in your family, and use all your support networks. She also urges parents to have “non-autism" dates and catch ups with friends.

“It’s an opportunity to just ‘be yourselves’ outside of your role as parents and carers. And where possible, use that time to focus on each other, not the family.”

What if one part of the couple is in denial?

Where does denial come from, in regard to your child's autism diagnosis?

“Denial is usually about fear. And it’s usually fear about what will happen if people find out about their child’s diagnosis. And these feelings can have a significant impact on the entire family.”

Susan recommends encouraging the partner in denial to talk about their concerns as much as possible.  

“The parent who has embraced the diagnosis and is moving forward, those people are fierce advocates and must be almost aggressive to get the best for their child. If your partner is not in agreement - this causes lots of tension. Then the whole table is in tension, it extends to friction in school and preschool.”

That’s why supporting your relationship is so important when your child has autism.

A united couple have a better chance of keeping their family happy and healthy - it also has huge benefits for the child with autism, too. 

“If the couple work together cohesively, then those children do better than any other children. If the couple is in therapy, it doesn’t work as effectively unless the couple is cohesive," says Susan.