According to the CDC, one in 68 kids in the U.S. has autism. For their families, an autism diagnosis often means more stress, social isolation, and depression. Meanwhile, research indicates a consistent link between poor mental and physical health. Now, a new study out of Concordia University in Montreal, and published in Family Relations, says there is help out there for parents of autistic kids, and it exists in the form of good old-fashioned social support.
Researchers asked 56 parents of kids on the autism spectrum to fill out surveys about what kind of formal social support they received from health and social services professionals. Participants were also asked about informal support from friends and family. The parents' health was assessed via questionnaire, and blood samples that checked for inflammation, which can indicate a variety of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, frailty, dementia, and early mortality.
What they found was that when a parent had more social support, they were less likely to have inflammation; this was true of both formal and informal kinds. Adequate support becomes even more essential as parents age, researchers contend.
"The impact of chronic caregiving stress on health likely becomes more pronounced as the parents are aging and their immune system responds less efficiently to challenges," explains study author Jean-Philippe Gouin. "The need for formal and informal support thus remains high even as the child with ASD is becoming an adult."
He adds the more support and better the health of the parent, the more likely it is the autistic child will have a good outcome. Ultimately, researchers hope that if parents get the help they need, it will have a beneficial effect on health care costs all around.
The takeaway: If you have a child with ASD, get all the support you can, both from health care professionals and friends and family. This will benefit your overall health, and make you a better caregiver for your child, especially as you both age.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.