Doctor Offers Help to Stunned Families of Autistic Children

You have probably heard about the case of the Irving mother killing her children this week. A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that her 5-year-old son was autistic and her 2-year-old daughter may have been as well. The mother claimed the reason she killed her children is that she wanted “normal kids.”

Dr. Patricia Evans, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s, encounters and treats autistic children every day. I spoke with her to get a better grasp on how situations like this happen.

The first thing she commented on was how isolated the mother must have felt. She said that feeling isolated is the most common complaint she hears from parents of autistic children. Their friends and extended family can’t relate and taking their children anywhere in public exhausts them, so they keep to themselves.

“Something as simple as buying groceries becomes this unbelievably difficult task,” Dr. Evans said. “Just to get to the store, get your child out of the car, make sure he doesn’t dash across the parking lot, get him into the grocery store, get some groceries and get checked out. It’s so simple for most of us, but for the parent of an autistic child, that may take a week to work up to.

The danger of isolation, Dr. Evans said, is that it prevents parents from getting the support they need. And support is absolutely necessary. Autism bankrupts families “emotionally, financially, and in every way because these children take such a toll,” she said.

I assume that is how the Irving mother felt. But there obviously needs to be another way to respond than she did.

Dr. Evans suggestion is simply: “Ask for help.”

“I would start by talking to your child’s school, because they know his condition and the specific resources near you. Then I would go to a place like Children’s that offers assessments, therapies and medications. Then I would go online and look up resources like Autism Speaks that connect you to community resources and support groups,” she said. “So many more services are available today.”

More medication is available today, too. No specific treatment for autism has been found yet, but the symptoms like aggression and anxiety can be treated. Dr. Evans said she is confident that more and more advancements will be made in the near future because research hospitals like Children’s are performing so much research on autism.

But as long as autism remains, she said, there will always have to be behavioral treatments, too.

The absolute worst thing parents of autistic children can do is isolate themselves.”

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One Response to Doctor Offers Help to Stunned Families of Autistic Children

  1. Anonymous July 25, 2010 at 8:39 am #

    >As the grandmother of a child with autism, I can't agree more that it is important for the parents (and the child) not to isolate themselves. Most family members and close friends DO understand some of your struggles, and if not, a frank conversation with them would most likely be welcomed. We DO want to help, but the communication line needs to stay open. And asking a question as to whether you've tried this or that with your child is not an accusation – we just want to understand how the child is worked with and what we can do to help. I also think that both the mother and father of an autistic child needs to be totally aware of each other's fears and concerns, and if one does not talk about it, don't assume they're handling it OK. The parent that stays at home with the child probably needs more "time off" than the parent who works, then comes home to the struggles and feels as though they just don't ever get a break. Back to the child – I personally get so much enjoyment from my grandchild and feel as though he benefits from being with me also. Just reach out to others, parents. You'll be surprised at how many want to be of help. We love you.

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