Family: The Ties that Bind Us Together

Family provides an important social structure to our lives. It can be a source of great joy or frustration.

The interactions and dynamics between the generations are constantly changing, and it includes the child, the parents, and aunts and uncles. You might have friends that count too.

Children who tend to be out-of-the box usually have at least one special need whether or not it’s been identified. Many of them have more.

That special need affects the balance in the family unit, and everyone experiences stress in a different way. Being aware that stress exists can help you address some problems while they are still manageable.

The Child

Some children are aware that they are different from other members of the family. The older they are the more they notice the differences.

Some children are oblivious. They live in their own world and may not be concerned with friends, academics, or basic hygiene.

And, some kids they may want to connect socially, but are lacking the social pieces necessary to form relationships or succeed in school.

What are you to do?

Be aware that these wonderful kids are not malicious or purposeful; but they are challenged! They need your continual guidance and patience. Those children that are aware of the differences will benefit from explicit instruction in key areas.

Those that are unaware need your structure and guidance even more.

Take personal hygiene. If Jeremy, for example, doesn’t like to bathe or brush teeth, he’s going to smell. At school, he will be teased and labeled as that stinky kid, or that boy that smells like pee or has smelly breath. Will he have friends? It will be more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle and hard to break once the labels have been made.

He needs mom or dad to make sure personal grooming takes place every morning.

At our house, I compare bathing my daughter to bathing a cat! For her, it’s a sensory issue . She fights me every night, and is convinced I’m intent on doing bodily harm. I take a deep breath, pray for patience, and jump in! I’m hopeful that someday it will end.

The Parents

Special needs of any kind can put a strain on your relationship, particularly if you have different views on discipline or different parenting styles.

It can cause problems with the family budget due to specialists and medication needs, and on the couple itself if the child takes up a disproportionate amount of time from one parent.

Let’s take a family with ADHD children. Study after study shows that ADHD households have almost twice the level of divorce as those without ADHD children. It’s the same with the autistic family, and so on. The stress level is high!

What can you do?

Be aware that having ANY special needs child can stress a relationship. Talk frequently and try to function as a team. My husband and I sit down and talk about what’s best for our “team” (family) when new problems arise. It may be something as small as switching bedrooms, changing the evening routine, deciding which sports to play.

Seek professional help when you feel that things are getting out of control. Remember that you’re a team, and a team sticks together!


Life as a brother or sister of an out-of-the-box child can be difficult, even for parents with the best of intentions.

Your other children may not be able to verbalize to you that they are stressed, but they may display signs such as feelings of sadness or anxiety.

Siblings yearn for peace and quiet. They may be bothered that they don’t have what they perceive to be a “normal” family. Life at home is chaotic! They can even feel resentful and jealous of the amount of time mom or dad spends dealing with their brother or sister.

I keep a little book called The Feelings Book in my older daughter’s bedside table. When she starts to withdraw and show signs of stress, I pull it out at bedtime and we read sections of it together. For us, it opens the door to meaningful conversations.

What to do?

Listen to your child. Try to understand what life is like for them. Create a peaceful space where they can escape when things get too chaotic. Take time to spend time with them one-on-one. They need you as much as your high needs child.

Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles

The relationship between a child and his or her grandparent is very special.

Grandparents are wonderful at nurturing, teaching, and giving unconditional love to their grandchildren…. most of the time. It's the same with aunt's, uncles, and other extended family.

There is a fine line between nurturing and overindulging.

The tricky part about relationships with other adult members of the family is that they may feel entitled to comment and give negative judgments. They may be right, AND they may be wrong.

Some relatives don’t understand that neurobiological challenges really exist.

They think that your parenting skills are lacking and the child just needs more discipline. On the other side of the coin, the other adults in your life may feel like they are experts in the area and give you unending advice and recommendations to “fix” your child.

If you put your child on medication, you’re the bad guy. If you don’t put your child on medication, you’re the bad guy.

What to do?

For those members of the family that are more open-minded, try to educate them regarding your child’s specific diagnosis, but be prepared for disbelief. Explain that everyone needs to work as a team, and then explain what that means. Then ask them to respect the needs of your child.

For those that are not… you have to balance the benefits of the relationships with the boundaries needed to ensure mental and physical safety.

Boundaries exist in every relationship. You have to make sure that your boundaries are at least respected. Dr. Henry Cloud has a very helpful book called Boundaries that can help you to establish and LOVINGLY communicate your personal limits for you and your family.

I know a mother with an Autistic son who had to resort to supervised visits.

No family is perfect…thank goodness! A family provides a wonderful source of support, love, and encouragement which are the ties that bind us together. I know that I’m loved and cherished, even when it feels like a giant tangle!