Credit: Jane Sandwood, freelance writer
Date: January 14, 2019
It’s 7 in the morning, and Tanya Sanders’ home is a scene of happy chaos. Her stepchildren are running late preparing for school while she sorts out their breakfast and gets ready for her 9 a.m. meeting. But at six months pregnant, the nonstop and intense sensory inputs can be difficult for her to handle, especially due to her mild form of autism, formally known as Asperger’s syndrome. Despite the challenges, Tanya handles the many obstacles of being a parent on the autism spectrum with a healthy dose of self-awareness and humor.
Evidence shows that one in 3 adults on the autism spectrum experience mental health issues due to a lack of support. That leaves us to question: What about children of mothers on the autism spectrum? Research shows that pregnant women with autism often lack the support they need in addition to feeling isolated and judged negatively. However, Tanya is not so far out of the ordinary with over thousands of mothers with autism across the globe. In fact, a survey by the National Autistic Society found that 5% of women were undiagnosed in 2017.
So, how can mothers with autism be helped? The first step to finding the right solutions is to understand the challenges.
Facing the Challenges
Mothers with autism tend to be under-represented in research and as a consequence, they are often undiagnosed. They can face a lack of understanding from professionals due to their condition, leaving them to feel vulnerable to scrutiny from child welfare services. Despite this, mothers are no less different than neurotypical parents.
From keeping up with the household, long list of daily needs, sensory overstimulation, and an overwhelming environment, mothers with autism experience the same challenges NT parent deal with. This includes pre- and post-natal issues such as awareness of harmful medications and toxins, along with meeting the demands of proper nutrition. In addition, ensuring that sensory needs are met throughout delivery.
Services in Demand
Parents with autism aren’t often supported as much as they could be. In fact, many moms on the spectrum said that a small amount of practical support would make all the difference in their quality of care. Take cleaning and cooking, for example. What if a parent diagnosed with autism could sign up for a service that provides nutritious meals or bi-weekly cleaning? This could eliminate the stress of planning, shopping, and cooking dinner. Managing the household with the required multitasking can be taxing for any parent. Not to mention, keeping a home clean can be difficult when you have executive function impairments.
Provide Support, Reduce the Risks
Based on a state-wide study by the Center of Autism and Related Disabilities, 67% of families with adult autism did not have knowledge of services in transition, as 73% were unemployed, 63% needed assistance in daily living, and 78% wanted to work. These simple aids would reduce that mother’s stress and enable her to spend more time each day with her child. Receiving help with transportation or shopping is also highly requested by families, as these types of supports aren’t unusual. In fact, they are supports that disabled individuals are already receiving.
As mothers often rely on family members for all variables of support, those who don’t are forced to cope with the sensory overload by themselves. That is why it is vital to build support for moms on the autism spectrum in ways that can make a difference. While there is no “one size fits all,” there are methods of support that would make all the difference in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.