Information for parents of disabled children

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parents of autistic students suffer anxiety disorder and depression at higher rates.

Dont PanicImage via Wikipedia A study indicates in black and white what parents raising autistic kids have known all along. It's really hard. After my own diagnosis with panic disorder, it became obvious to me that we couldn't be the only ones, so I asked around. Many of the parents we know are taking medications for anxiety or depression.

The root of the problem lies in the constant alertness a family dealing with autism has to maintain when on the severe end of the spectrum or going through a difficult "phase" of a child's development. In our case, sleep deprivation has played a significant role. Having a child who doesn't sleep means parents can't sleep.

These are actually good things to know for educators dealing with parents of students who have autism. Their problems aren't like your problems. You worry about picking up your dry cleaning. They have to restrain kids from jumping in around every puddle or lake or fountain.  In our case, once I fell asleep after 72 hours straight of no sleep or interrupted sleep. I dozed off sitting up on the couch, and when I woke up my toaster was on fire. I didn't fall asleep easily for a month. Prolonged lack of sleep affects behavior and thought in parents, as it will in anyone.

Studies have demonstrated that a lack of sleep impairs one's ability to simultaneously focus on several different related tasks, reducing the speed as well as the efficiency of one's actions.
People suffering anxiety and depression have different responses to all situations. A person with panic disorder can be triggered by a simple conversation or phone call from school. They become short tempered and can't communicate meaning effectively. Teachers dealing with parents suffering these conditions won't know the reasons for a behavior, but they could anticipate the possibility, learning to take nothing personally and slow the pace of a conversation to help a parent stay focused.

Educators have no choice but to deal with negatives in a child's behavior, but they can help by going to parents with positive suggestions fully developed and ready to implement, not just calling to report that little Johnny is biting again. Most of the time, and I speak from experience, parents have no idea what to do. Let them know you have an idea you want to try, explain it and get their approval. Problem addressed, and the teacher has given an incredible gift to a parent; the gift of solutions.

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