Living with a child with special needs can have profound effects on the entire family, including the extended family members, siblings, parents, and the child. It can affect all aspects of family functioning, since they have to be on the watch for the child. On the positive side, living with a child with special needs can expand horizons, develop family cohesion, increase the family members’ awareness of their inner strength, and promote connections to community groups. On the negative side, this child will need time, physical and emotional demands and financial cost in order to make the child’s life comfortable. However, the impacts will depend on the child’s condition, and its severity, as well as the emotional, physical, and the financial resources available to take care of the child.
Autism is a condition that affects a child’s brain functioning. It is a prevalent developmental disorder, which appears in children before the age of three. A child with autism is not able to express their needs like any other normal child because, this disorder affects their ability to communicate and interact with others. Therefore, this leaves parents and caregivers to play a guessing game on what specifically the child may be asking for. However, when they cannot establish what exactly the child needs, both parties feel frustrated, the child and the caregiver. The child will feel that the caregiver is not taking care of his/her needs, while the caregiver will be frustrated because, he/she cannot be able to determine exactly what the child wants. A child with autism can be frustrated to an extent of becoming aggressive, and even injuring him/herself and this can threaten the child’s life, and that of the whole family.
This literature review will focus on the issue of a child with diverse needs in a family. It will mainly focus on the child with autism-aged newborn through 12 years. The paper will focus on the extraordinary demands on parents, and siblings on raising children with special needs. The pains they go through while raising this child, and how it affects their family relationship, uses their finance and most of their time. In addition, it will talk about the struggles of parents between the needs of their children with special needs, and those of the other children.
According to Snell, parents with a child with autism will increase stress in their lives, take a toll on their physical and mental health, affect their decisions to have more children, and even to work (2003). In addition, it will be difficult for them to find an appropriate and affordable care for the child in case of financial constraints. Taking care of this child may divert their attention from other aspects of the family functioning, because they want the child to have the best from them. Likewise, the medical care and other medical services may become enormous for them. Snell (2003) notes that, the above effects may have repercussions on the quality of family relationship, between the siblings and parents. In addition, having a child with special needs in a family may affect the distribution of financial resources, and time of both the parents and the siblings. A young child with autism needs special care in order to grow up and function properly like the rest of the kids.
Similarly, according to Boyd (2002), autism is a developmental disorder associated with stress, and burden to parents. A child with autism affects caregivers and parents in diverse ways. This is because, the parents must put all their primary focus on helping the child with autism, and this may put stress on their marriage, work, personal relationships, their other children, and even their finances. He continues to argue that, the parent will have to shift all their attention and money towards providing treatment, and interventions for the child, to the exclusions of their priorities. A child with autism has special needs, and this might complicate family relationships, especially with the other siblings who will feel that, they have been neglected. However, Gray (2002) suggests that, this can be solved by caregivers and parents explaining to their family, and other children about autism and its complications, and ask them to get involved in helping their sibling live a normal life. Moreover, the parents can find time together with the family to attend prayers together, and this will help them overcome the challenges of autism and provide a safe and inclusive environment for everyone in the family.
Parents will find it difficult and will struggle with the additional challenge of getting a child with autism to sleep throughout the night. Additionally, they will struggle in making him/her eat a wider variety of foods (Gray, 2002). All of these are emotionally draining, and physically exhausting for both the parents, and the entire family. Gray notes, this is a very difficult challenge for families with children on the autism spectrum (2002). They will have sleepless nights, because of distractions from the child, and cannot take their meals in a peaceful way, because of the child’s inability to sit for extended periods, and concentrate on eating. This means that, they cannot attend any function with the child, and one of them has to stay home, and take care of the child with special needs, unless they want to find their house in a big mess or the child injured. Consequently, not doing things as a family whereby one of the parent, either mom or dad has to stay home taking care of the child can adversely affect the marital relationship. In addition, the spouses cannot spend time together, due to the extreme parenting demands for their child with special needs, and lack of qualified personnel to watch over their child with autism.
Nevertheless, a recent study on the effects of a child with special needs of a family indicates that, the effects on the family will depend on what and how severe the child’s special need is (Snell, 2003) A child with special needs, demands extra attention, and significant time, compared to other family members. This will limit the time left to give to other members of the family. The study suggests that, to prevent stress in a family with a child with autism, the parents should try and get respite care. This will enable them to spend time with other family members, and create time for themselves too. Relieve care can be given with relatives, neighbors, friends, and even special needs care givers who are qualified to take care of the child. This will help parents to spend a significant amount of time with their other children, and pay attention to their emotional status, and their needs. All children in a family need a parent’s time and energy, despite the conditions and regardless of whether, there is a child on the autism spectrum or not. According to the studies discussed above, marriages of parents with children with special needs like autism undergo a great deal of pressure. This can be managed during the respite care time, whereby parents can work on holding their marriage together and on the ways to live happily together, even with the problem at hand. Parents can spend time together during the respite care, and mend their marriage.
A child with autism sucks up a mother’s physical, emotional, and financial resources, leaving her with little to offer to the rest of the family. The mother will invest her time, and emotional resources to take care of the family, yet it brings little or no joy to the family. Although Freedman and Boyer, (2000), argues that, on the sibling’s perspective, they will feel that their sibling’s needs comes first that theirs and he/she gets more attention than they do. This affects them emotionally and they might end up hating their brother, or sister with special needs. Boyd (2002), Claims that, it should be understood that, a child with autism needs special care of love and understanding, as much as it is difficult to live with them. The child with autism is extremely needy, and taking care of him/her is encompassing and a must (Reichman, Corman, and Noonan, 2008). Most of these children grow up and become independent, depending on the care given to them as they grow up. However, some cases are life long, extending to the parents’ death. Families should work on taking care of their children with special needs by training them how to become independent in adulthood, other than neglecting them.
Astonishingly, little is acknowledged about the ripple effects of a child with special needs on a family. Population based research, particularly on economic and demographic impacts is scarce. Existing studies indicate that, having a child with a serious health condition that needs, special needs brings stress to all the family members. Most parents can end up separating or living apart, because of disagreements on taking care of the child. Moreover, it can lead to a reduction in working hours for both parents, because they cannot leave their child with special needs in the hands of a caregiver for longer periods since the child needs them. Another study found out that, parents with children with autism have a lower rate of social participation than, parents without children with special needs. This is because, they cannot go to public functions with the child, because, he/she cannot concentrate for long hours and will cause distractions.
In a field study done by Gray (2003), on the effects of families with children with autism indicates that, it has a negative effect on the careers of both parents. David Gray did this interview on Australian families with a child with autism (2003). Most mothers admitted that, they could not go to work because of their child’s extensive needs. If they had to work, maybe part time because it is hard for tem to juggle with their jobs, and their child with special needs. It is clear in the literature reviewed here that, children with special needs require a lot of attention from their families (Trigonaki, 2002). However, it adversely affects the family relationships, and can lead to hate from the other siblings, and even family breakups. The literature in the end suggests that, there is a lot a family can do to avoid being stressed while taking care of a child in the family with special needs. One of the perfect solutions is respite care whereby they can spend time together without disruptions fro the autism child and discuss the way forward on how to take care of him/her. The family should take good care of the child and teach him/her how to be independent in the future, other than neglecting the child. According to Trigonaki (2002), the most important thing a family can do to a child with autism, is to teach them self-control and enroll them in educational therapies. This will help improve their social skills, behavior, and communication. A team of trusted professionals of teachers, and therapists can help a child with autism live a normal life in adulthood, and it is the duty of parents to find them.
Overall, much more needs to be learned about taking care of children with special needs, and its impacts on the entire family. In addition, how children’s health affects their parents, siblings, and the entire extended family. Further research and investigation would be needed to determine the impacts of children with special needs to their family, and how this can be solved. Most literature has focused on the outcomes on family members other than on the child. Research should be undertaken to bring out the outcomes on the child with special needs. However, stress in families of children with special needs has been well documented in most studies.
Reichman, N., E. Corman, E. and Noonan, K. (2008). Impact of Child Disability on the Family. Maternal Child Health Journal. 12 (6), 679-683.
Snell, M. E. (2003). Autism, Education of Individuals with. In J. W. Guthrie (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Education (1, 161-162). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Boyd, B. A. (2002). Examining the relationship between stress and lack of social support in mothers of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17, 208-215.
Gray, D. E. (2002). Ten years on: A longitudinal study of families of children with autism. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 27, 215-222.
Trigonaki, N. (2002). Parents of children with autism and the five basic needs. International Journal of Reality Therapy, 11, 13-14.
Freedman, R. I., & Boyer, N. C. (2000). The power to choose: Supports for families caring for individuals with developmental disabilities. Health and Social Work, 25, 59-68.
Gray, D. E. (2003). Gender and Coping: The Parents of children with high functioning Autism. Social Science and Medicine, 56(3), 631-642.