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Raising an Autistic Child When You Have a Mental Illness

Brooke Price and her autistic son

Being the mother of an Autistic child is challenging. When you are a parent that also has a mental illness along with it, it makes it even harder. You must be aware of your emotions always. Whether you have depression, Bipolar Disorder or something else- your emotions likely run your life at times. It is just as important to learn your triggers to successfully raise your child as it is to learn your child’s triggers when dealing with Autism. I, myself, am a mother who is raising two Autistic children and happen to have mental illnesses.


I used to be ashamed of my mental illnesses. I felt as though if anybody found out about them that I would no doubt become less of a mother in their eyes. It dawned on me one day that being ashamed of my mental illnesses is no different than being ashamed of both of my children’s Autism and comorbid disorders. It is part of who they are; but, it doesn’t encompass everything they are as human beings. There is no shame in that. The same goes for me with my disorders, and possibly for you with yours-if you have any. My mental illnesses don’t encompass everything that I am as a human being; they do, however, make it a little more challenging somedays. Especially the days when I am depressed.

As a mother of two Autistic teens who also personally has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder 2 and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; coupled with a severe Anxiety Disorder-I have learned some important pointers for living with a mental illness while raising disabled children.

Get Therapy

It is important to realize that while medication may be able to manage some of the symptoms you feel, therapy teaches abilities you can use in all areas of your life. Therapy can help you “learn how to deal with your disorder, cope with problems, regulate your mood, change the way you think, and improve your relationships.” A lot of people are resistant to therapy, me being one of them. I cannot tell you how much therapy helps me with my own disorders, as well as with my children’s Autism. It is the single most important thing that I do to manage my disorders.

Be as Involved in Your Treatment as You Can Be

Being involved in your treatment is a way to be more aware of your symptoms. It is also a way to be more in more control of yourself, so you can be more in control for your special needs child. Make sure you are a full and active participant in your own treatment. Learn everything you can about your specific disorder the same as you learned about your child’s Autism. Become a Google expert on your illness.

Make sure that you study up on the symptoms, so you can recognize them in yourself. Also, it is suggested that you research all your available treatment options. The more informed you are, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with symptoms and make good choices for yourself. Using what you’ve learned about your disorder will also help you work in partnership with your therapist in the “treatment planning process.” Don’t ever be afraid to voice your opinions or questions to your therapist. It is said that the “most beneficial relationships between patient and healthcare provider work as a partnership.” If your therapist takes issue with you voicing your opinion- know there are more therapist out there. Sometimes you don’t “click” with the first one you go to.

Make Sure You Monitor All Your Symptoms and Moods

To stay well and take care of your special needs child adequately you need to not only monitor their moods and symptoms but yours as well. It’s important to be closely accustomed to the way you feel. It is also important to realize that often when the most “obvious symptoms” appear it is sometimes too late to divert them. Keep a close watch for subtle changes in your mood, sleeping patterns, energy level, and thoughts.

Know Your Triggers and Early Warning Signs

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It’s imperative to recognize the warning signs of an oncoming episodes, whether you have Depression or another issue all together. If you make a list of your early symptoms it is helpful in recognizing them in the future. Also, try to identify the triggers, or outside influences, that have led to episodes in the past.

Common triggers that can cause depressive or manic episodes:
-financial difficulties
-arguments with your loved ones
-problems at school or work
-seasonal changes
-lack of sleep

There are also very important warning signs to look for that are indicative of severe depression.

Warning signs of depression include:
-Stopping cooking meals.
-No longer wanting to be around people.
-People bothering you.
-Craving chocolate.
-Having headaches.
-Not caring about anybody else.
-Needing more sleep, including naps during the day.

Keep a Mood Chart/Diary

Knowing your early warning signs and triggers won’t do you much good if you aren’t keeping close tabs on how you’re feeling. By checking in with yourself, you can be sure that red flags don’t get lost in the shuffle of your life. Keeping a mood chart, or diary, is a way to monitor your symptoms. A mood chart is a “daily log of your emotional state and other symptoms you’re having.” It can also include information such as “how many hours of sleep you’re getting, your weight, medications you’re taking, and any alcohol use.” You can use your mood chart to spot patterns and indicators of trouble ahead.

Never Give Up on Improving Your Treatment:

Things won’t always go the way you want them too, so be patient. Never give up on your treatment. Your special needs child depends on you to be ok so that they can be ok. Don’t expect an immediate and total cure. Have patience with the treatment process. It can take time to find the right program that works for you.

Take Your Meds

Remember, your treatment program will change over time. Talk to your provider if your condition or needs change and be honest about your symptoms and any medication side effects. Making sure you take any medication that is prescribed is of the upmost importance. If you’re taking medication, follow all instructions and take it faithfully, at the same time each day. Don’t skip or change your dose without first talking with your doctor.

As author Hugh Prather said in his book, Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, “Both my body and my emotions were given to me and it is as futile for me to condemn myself for feeling scared, insecure, selfish or revengeful as it is for me to get mad at myself for the size of my feet. I am not responsible for my feelings, but for what I do with them… My emotions do not originate in compliance with laws of Aristotelian logic. My mind cannot know what my body ought to be feeling. My body has every reason of its own to be feeling the way it does, and all things considered...it couldn’t be feeling any other way.”

That goes the same for each emotion that you feel as a “mentally ill person.” You cannot condemn yourself for how you feel, but for what you do with those feelings.