Social Support Boosts Health for Parents of Children with Autism

Around 80,000 people in New Zealand have autism, and families who receive this diagnosis for one of their children can find that their stress levels increase as they are called upon to consider factors like education, work, programmes and therapies.

Beyond the diagnosis, chronic caregiving can cause stress for parents, with researchers at Concordia University stating that parents of children with autism are also more likely to have depression than parents of typically developing children. There is, however, something that can improve parental health and reduce stress: social support – which is necessary both in the short and long-term.

Stress levels of parents with autistic children

In one study, researchers obtained blood samples from a group of healthy parents of children with autism. The parents were also asked to answer questions on the different types of social support they had (both formal and informal). They were also asked to rate the state of their own health, indicate their stress levels, etc. The results indicated that parents who had greater informal social support (ie provided by friends and family as opposed to social services or doctors) had lower inflammation, and that those who had strong formal support also had lower inflammation and better self-rated health.

Social support and better access to resources

Social support aids parents in many ways, from the most practical (e.g. chores and transport to therapy or school) to more theoretical means. Being in touch with other parents with autistic children is an effective way of ensuring access to vital resources for children with autism. These range from the latest findings and research to recommendations on effective programs or professionals nearby. As stated in a study published in the American Journal of Sociology, social interaction can result in earlier diagnosis of a child, which is important so that children can get the help they need early.

The impact of stress gets worse as parents age

As parents become older, their immune system functions less efficiently, which is why continued support is key. Keeping inflammation down is important because this condition is linked to serious diseases – including heart disease, some types of cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Of course, keeping stress down is just one way of battling inflammation. A healthy, Mediterranean-based diet that is high in fibre-rich fruits and vegetables has also been found to be anti-inflammatory.

Social support is particularly important for families that are struggling financially

As found in research from Family Relations, parents in low-income environments are more likely to face depression when they are low on social support. In addition to consulting health professionals for recommendations to official networks and groups, parents can also consider joining community groups, churches, sports-related groups, etc. Doing so, said researchers, can form a protective barrier against the kind of thought patterns that can lead to depression.

Parents of children with autism should aim to form part of support networks. This is the case throughout their child’s lifetime. Older parents in particular, who are more prone to illness, can benefit greatly from being a vital part of their local communities.

Sally Writes

This article was written by Sally Sykes with additional content by Kidspot NZ. Sally is a freelance writer who left her corporate job for a life of freedom. She regularly travels with her family and absolutely loves camping in the great outdoors.


  1. Alezandra 08/03/2020 at 12:07 am

    It would be good to have resources like this to remind us about autism and how we can be supportive. We have a child with mild autism at our Playcentre and we try to help and find ways to encourage his learning despite his anxiety on certain activities. It would also be good to have more resources that teaches people on how to interact with children with autism or how to show support for parents who have children with autism.

  2. Micht 07/03/2020 at 11:31 pm

    I dont have experience of caring for a child with autism…but i have had a neighbour with kids who were autistic…it is a very stressful situation…and one that requires alot of patience and understanding

  3. Shorrty4life1 04/03/2020 at 10:02 am

    This was a great read and very interesting learning more about autism. I have experience Caring for someone with autism. I did my papers in teacher aiding years ago and ended up having to do a placement at a school for 6weeks to complete the qualification. I saw a little boy who had autism and how much they struggle. They get angry alot easier because of their struggles also. It was quite sad to see. They are very cool people to get along with though as they have such huge hearts.

  4. Bevik1971 28/02/2020 at 10:20 am

    Oh so sad for children 🙁 I know that I suffered from anxiety which manifested in different ways as a child, and unfortunately followed me into adulthood. I wasn’t aware of it when I was young, so never dealt with it – it was due to my childhood and things that had happened. But dealing with it even as an adult is very, very important – issues need to be addressed. Schools now have some great avenues for this type of thing for kids from a young age which is so important. They also talk to the kids about important issues 🙂

  5. Jen_Wiig 27/02/2020 at 2:15 pm

    My middle boy of 3 has recently tested by MOE physcologist with severe anxiety, depression and registering on the autism spectrum aka ASD… Always been red flags and I had felt ignored and not believed for a very very long time… So yes depression is huge in parents with kids with these what I call different abilities not disabilities…. Been a massive life changing experience for all of us but also has brought alot of relief especially for our boy as now we know exactly what we need to do moving forward and why things have been so rough for him.
    Reaching out to communities is easier said than done though too sometimes and agree with article where lower income impacts the parents and in turn the child… This is what I struggle with alot.

Leave A Comment