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Autism and the Family

Autism in the Family

Raising children was and still is one of the most complex journeys in life. The abundance of advice, research and books dealing with this topic show the concern that exists in our culture when it comes to doing the best for our child. The transition to parenthood is a defining event that naturally creates constant tension. This process is accompanied by expectations and hopes regarding the "ideal child", as well as anxiety in the face of the unknown and the need to stabilize the balance in the family every time. The parents are considered as the performers who implement the "family ideology" (Bollas, 1987) which includes the range of expectations, basic assumptions and beliefs, family culture and tradition, the roles of family members, and more.

Autism and the Family

The relationships within the family are largely influenced by the family ideology, often unconsciously. Bollas, who coined the term "family ideology", believed that it was significant both for the internal formation of family structures and characteristics and for the demarcation of these structures and characteristics from the outside. During the formation of the family unit, the parents have to overcome various obstacles (the need for independence, a feeling of lack of freedom, acceptance of responsibility, etc.).

A family's lifestyle usually changes after a diagnosis or dealing with a developmental difficulty. An event of this type may disturb the equilibrium of the family system and obliges the family to make changes in its way of life, compels all family members to adapt to the situation, and leads to a continuous effort of dealing with stressful situations (Summers, et al., 2005). The change can be reflected in the change of goals and priorities, since families naturally tend to invest in promoting the needs of their child with special needs (Patterson, 1982). As a result, many parents find themselves in situations, exposing them to excessive demands, unequal distribution of chores, burnout, daily fatigue and the lack of shared time with all family members (Friedrich & Friedrich, 1981).

The process of receiving a diagnosis of autism may bring up difficult feelings such as denial, anger, and guilt which may damage the balance and attitude towards the child himself or other family members. The diagnosis changes the existing situation of the family and causes significant changes that may affect the existing dynamics, and the way to restore the equilibrium in the family is not clear.

The loss of family balance leads to a feeling of a "struggle for survival" and the functioning of the family is in a state of fundamental change - the family must mobilize and invest many resources in the diagnosed child, in addition to dealing with a new financial and physical burden.

In addition to this, dealing with the diagnosis may lead to a crisis in couple- hood life. Each parent deals with the situation individually (defense and coping mechanisms) and the distance between the parents may reduce the functional capacity of the family (Siman-Tov, 2009).

Family therapeutic intervention at The Mifne Center

The Mifne approach sees the nuclear family as a complete puzzle, each of whose parts has a great influence on the location of the others. The main assumption is that each part must be seen individually when entering into the therapeutic procedure. The nuclear family is one of the primary centers of therapy at the Mifne Center.

The program includes mutual learning of the elements of the family: gaining experience through observation and practical experience with the infant, learning techniques of mutual play adapted to the changing needs of the infant, guiding parents through feedback and personal discussions, and special attention to siblings and the specific fabric of each family that comes for treatment.

All of this is aimed at strengthening the abilities of the family members, bridging the gap that opened as a result of the fear and anxiety that sometimes accompany the diagnosis, and acquiring effective and optimal tools to deal with the new situation in everyday life.

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