While some people with autism and their families cope well with the additional challenges that autism brings, for many others the impact can be described as devastating.  People on the autistic spectrum face many issues, from the persistent challenge of trying to ‘fit in’, to frustration at not being able to express how they feel, to daily crippling anxiety because they cannot make sense of what is happening around them.

Some people develop stress-reducing behaviours that can make them appear strange or unruly and they are judged by others for behaving ‘oddly’. Parents may avoid taking their children out to public places rather than face the reactions from people who do not understand the situation. This causes not only the child with autism but also their family to become housebound and isolated, which has a profound effect on the social and emotional wellbeing of them all.

Many children with autism may miss out on valuable social, educational, leisure and life experiences that others their age take for granted. Their confidence and self-esteem may deteriorate as a result and a reported 70% of people with autism go on to develop depression and other mental health problems. Teenagers are especially vulnerable, often being bullied by so-called ‘friends’ or excluded from mainstream school. Transition into adulthood is challenging, as many may not have the social and communication skills needed to live independently or get a job. Some stay at home through most of their adult lives. Many find that they are misunderstood and some tragically break the law and commit crimes, often related to their lack of social understanding.

 

Siblings of those with autism may also be affected by being in a stressful environment, unable to socialise because of the difficulties at home, or unable to go out as a family. Some become carers for their autistic brother or sister in an effort to help their parents; in some cases the strain of this is well documented to have long term psychological effects.

Some parents report feeling isolated, depressed, and emotionally and physically exhausted from looking after their autistic children and fighting for support. They feel judged by society, guilty that their child is missing out and frustrated at not knowing how best to help them.  For many families, at least one parent cannot work due to their caring responsibilities and this puts an additional financial burden on them.  Often, autistic people have disturbed sleep patterns and they need constant supervision which is physically exhausting.  As they grow up, the children become too strong to handle if they throw a tantrum.  Many parents with autistic children assume that they will be the primary carer for life and are often very worried about what will happen to their child when they are too old to care for them or when they die. Frequently, without the right understanding and support, the stresses of living with someone with autism cause families to break up, which adds to the feeling of isolation and despair of the parent left to care for the individual.