New tool may help families and children with autism reduce stress
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder with significant behavioral and social communication deficits. An autistic child often has to overcome significant challenges.
Researchers recently developed a new tool, the Child and Family Quality of Life Questionnaire, with the hope that it will allow clinicians to assess and help not only the affected child, but the child’s family and support system.
“Families of children with autism experience significant stress and financial burdens that can have a negative impact on family functions,” says Dr. Valeria Nanclares, staff psychologist and coordinator of the Advocate Medical Group Autism Treatment Program at the Pediatric Developmental Center (PDC) at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago and Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Working closely with the families helps provide a stronger, more stable environment, which often leads to greater developmental gains for the children, but also decreases the overall stress on the family, in particular the parents.”
The questionnaire was used during a study that included the parents of 212 children 7 years old and under who were referred to a specialist because they might have autism, according to a news release. More than half of the children had an autism spectrum disorder, and the questionnaires completed by their parents reinforced the belief that raising a child with a developmental disorder often comes with additional stresses to family life even before a child is diagnosed.
“Educating caregivers on the best ways to help and teach their children is of paramount importance and can help reduce the negative impact on the family and increase their sense of competence as parents,” Dr. Nanclares says. “At the Pediatric Developmental Center, parents are active collaborators in the therapy sessions, with ongoing parent training and support being provided to them to enhance therapy results.”
While this result is not surprising, the authors of the questionnaire aimed to prove, with additional research, that the questionnaire can be used to identify ways to improve the quality of life as early as possible for each family based on their unique experiences.
“Having a child on the autism spectrum affects everything from communication to finances,” says Dr. Nanclares. “It tends to increase parents’ stress relative to that of parents of typically developing children, often straining parents’ relationships with each other. Providing parents and caregivers with more resources would also likely lead to a better quality of life for the children.”
Dr. Nanclares adds that it can be helpful for parents to build their own support system. She advises that parents of children with autism speak with other parents who’ve had similar experiences. Whether it’s online or in person, this network can provide you with even more advice and resources.
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