Psychologist Questions Depression

My son has been diagnosed with autism and it is depressing my wife. Please help.

My son is 2 years old and has been diagnosed with autism. My wife is unable to deal with the trauma and is showing signs of depression. Not sure how to approach this. What should I do?

16 Answers

Let her know it’s common to feel sad and confused by a very difficult and unexpected diagnosis of a beloved child. Support and guidance are available
Parents of children diagnosed with ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder typically need a great deal of help, but there is very scientifically based and helpful professional input that is extremely helpful and very supportive of parents and working towards the best future for their child. It can be discouraging, and that makes professional support so much more important. Parents should be working regularly with professionals for developmental guidance and training if needed, and with parents themselves to teach skills, focus on the likelihood of significant gains and improvement, and help with the specifics that they need.

James E. Byassee, Ph.D.
Perhaps suggest that you both attend a couples therapy session to learn effective communication strategies and how each of you would like to give/receive support during this time. You may also visit the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) at ( and Autism Speaks (
I am sorry to hear that your son has been diagnosed and your wife is depressed. I have questions about whether she is depressed or responding with normal grief for the loss of her expectations for a son she thought would be healthy. It is normal to respond to the diagnosis of a chronic neurological impairment with a time of loss and sadness. Please consider seeking a consultation with a therapist and perhaps a support group for new parents of children on the spectrum.

Life will offer up extreme challenges with having a child on the spectrum but it will also offer you a deepening in your capacity for patience, compassion and successes to watch your child grow and learn. My deepest wish is for you to honor your child by releasing your expectations and to grasp your role of parenting with creativity and discovery of this soul who is in your care.
I would recommend you seek help from a family/couples' therapist. Also, there are many support groups for parents of children with autism. You should be able to google or find on National Institute of Mental Health website. You are not alone, and sharing experience with other couples with similar experience can be very helpful. Also, your wife should be evaluated for treatment for depression. She likely needs therapy and may need medication if the depression meets criteria for MDD or subsyndromal depression.
Please tell your wife that autism exists along a continuum and that many people on the spectrum go on to lead highly successful lives. The sooner that your son receives treatment, the better, as treatment is more effective when it is begun at a young age. I would strongly suggest that your wife look for a support group where she can feel understood and encouraged by other parents and learn more about how she can help.

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.
A diagnosis of your child, such as of autism, or intellectual disability, is a shock, and there is a normal grieving that parents will have to go through. Some people feel angry "Why me?," others may blame themselves, "What did I do wrong?" and a few will go into denial, "This can't be happening to me, maybe the diagnosis is wrong." All of these responses are normal, and not a sign that your wife is unable to deal with the trauma. This is part of dealing with the trauma, feeling the feelings that come along and being able to express a full range of these feelings to loved ones.
Express your concern and help her find a counselor.
Dr. G
A diagnosis of autism impacts not just the patient, but the family as well. It is often a good idea to seek professional help in order to deal effectively with the emotional issues surrounding the diagnosis.

Joycelyn Parish, Ph.D.
She will need therapy and maybe need to hire someone that is certified to assist you all with your son. Tell her not to blame herself. Keep encouraging her, do things to take her mind
off the past.
Determine if your wife believes she needs treatment and wants professional help at this time. Ask her how you can help. A child with Autism can be very challenging. Seek professional support groups for additional help and resources.
I have a controversial question to ask. Was she depressed before the diagnosis? Ask her. Sometimes Postpartum Depression is the best kept secret. Mothers put the baby in a room and close the door and watch tv until dad comes home and then hand him over to dad to take care of, "Here, I've been taking care of him all day. Please take over." Autism is usually reversible by age two, if you engage him, enjoy him, have fun with him, pet him, sooth him, make eye contact, etc. No abandonments. No daycare. Have fun, Hold him. Read stories to him. Cuddle him when he cries, because he MAY have a lot of heartbreak and rejection to release. Enjoy him. That may bring up the postpartum depression about how she was neglected as an infant, and she can excuse herself and cry and cry until she gets her heartbreak out. Then, go back and nurture the baby, and enjoy giving him what she never got and modeling for her parents what motherhood should look like. Help her out too. Take over and do the same. It's sweet revenge and so much fun, if you can get into the miracle.
She needs to be a caring adult of your child and get more testing to the degree of Autism he has. Look on line for support groups and attend. It is a medical condition, no one is at fault and find out the best things to do for your son!
This answer is for informational purposes only and does not constitute treatment.

For some parents, an autism diagnosis for their child is a huge surprise and disappointment. If the diagnosis is very new, this may be an intense reaction, but within what could be expected. If you notice these changes are ongoing for more than a few weeks and your wife is expressing concern, then finding someone for her to talk with could be helpful.

Many autism service organizations run parent support groups where parents come together to talk about their family and challenges. Many parents find this to be very helpful and healing. Knowing the challenges ahead and successes others have achieved can be very hopeful. You can find a listing of local agencies and providers on the Autism Speaks website.

Some people feel more comfortable talking about family matters in a private setting with a therapist. You can also search on Autism Speaks for a local provider if you wife is interested in going to counseling. Finding a provider familiar with autism and family therapy might be especially helpful. Depending on where you live, this can be easy or very difficult.

Even between the two of you, talking about your plan for treatment for your son and any positive changes you have noticed since the initial diagnosis may help your wife see and focus on some recent successes. Family support can also help a parent remember they don't have to face the big task of raising a child with autism alone.
You and your wife should go see a therapist about this situation. It isn’t the easiest thing to bring up a child that has autism. Your wife needs to realize that the both of you are needed as a parent and this child needs your love and attention. If she needs to see s therapist on a regular basis, then that is important for her and you and your son. I would suggest getting another opinion. That should be first
Seek family therapy - your son's issue needs to be addressed through therapy which I assume you are doing. Both your wife and you will need support - there are active Autism support groups out there - become part of them. Do not let this linger, get help. Your wife may also need individual therapy - work with a therapist who is experienced in helping parents who have autistic kids.