It is known that any severe, chronic disease or disorder has a profound impact on the people closest to the affected subject. For this reason, the families of people who have autistic spectrum disorder (severe and chronic neurodevelopmental disorder) tend to suffer consequences from living with their child.
The impact on the families is overall characterised by the presence of permanent stress which, in the case of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), tends to be higher than for families of children that show an intellectual disorder without autism, which can be explained by the following factors:
Firstly, due to the uncertainty of the diagnosis, since in many cases precisely identifying the problem may take many years, much later than when the first symptoms are detected. Secondly, due to the characteristics of the syndrome itself, which produces significant uncertainty and doubt for the parents: severe communication difficulties; sense of rejection by people; unaffected aspects (much of the time), such as motor skills or physical appearance; superimposed behavioural problems. Thirdly, due to the relative uncertainties on the causes of the disorder, the ideal intervention programmes and their future progress (prognosis).
The severity of the impact varies in each case, and it depends on three variables: family resources (psychological, socioeconomic and social support); adjustment of the couple (mental state and quality of marital relations); and individual characteristics of the autistic disorder of the child.
Having a child with autism, we have to understand them as being at the beginning of a crisis, and therefore they go through the well-known four phases described as: shock, denial, depression and realisation (reaction). And it is clear that the parents need regular professional help and counselling, in order to face the challenge of living with a child affected by ASD. Without professional help, living with a person affected by ASD can be very difficult and the consequences for the family members can be quite significant.