Anxiety and Depression
Depression in Children with Special Needs & Their Parents/Caregivers
by Zafer Elcik
Starting from its diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder heavily impacts every aspect of life, both the individual and their parents and caregivers. The effects of this lifelong disorder last for the individual’s lifetime. There are also comorbidities that affect the autistic person’s physical and mental health, and depression is one of these.
Many studies have been conducted on the mental impact of a medical condition or a developmental disorder on the individual. One of the main reasons for autistic people to have anxiety or depression is apparently being left out or bullied by peers, according to a study.
A chronic disorder that has an influence on every aspect of a person’s life is challenging already without the added pressure from peers. Through various studies, it has been shown that being bullied increases the risk for academic and emotional issues in a student’s life.
This seems to be the case for many children with special needs, like those with autism or speech impediments. Although many studies are looking into this topic, there is not enough research to specifically indicate how being bullied affects children and youth with special needs.
One study conducted by the developmental-behavioral pediatrics division at the Medical University of South Carolina investigated the impact of bullying, being left out, and a chronic medical condition on youth with special needs and found that being bullied and/or ostracised were the most prominent predictors of increased depression or anxiety.
Every person can experience depression and anxiety at one point or another in their life. So it seems natural to assume that children and youth with special needs are not the only ones going through this state. We all know that many parents as well can find themselves in a state of loneliness and exhaustion along with stress. This is a normal part of life. However, there is also clinical depression, where the condition is more biologically based and symptoms of depression can be present regardless of the external circumstances.
Parents and caregivers of children and youth with special needs constantly battle with the challenges their loved ones go through depending on their specific set of needs. These challenges range from social isolation, both for themselves and their kids, to the financial burdens that come with a chronic disorder.
When these situations are not addressed and the necessary help isn’t taken, biological change may start to happen. Studies have found that the rates of depression and anxiety observed in family members of children with autism are higher than the national average in the US. It is also known that there is often a significant history of familial depression in children with ASD who are diagnosed with depression.
When the situation is prolonged, the chemicals in our brain that regulate our responses to certain feelings (like hurt or pleasure) and also impact our perception of the world, begin to decrease. This causes a chronic experience of negative emotions. If it is not intervened, this could become a permanent state of mind, meaning that the brain may begin to permanently alter and produce less of these chemicals in time. This, in turn, can prevent the person from being back to ”normal” and functioning ”normally.”
Symptoms of depression may not necessarily mean that the parents or the child have depression. However, to intervene in time and make the necessary changes and get the help needed, it is essential to keep an eye out for the red flags. For parents and caregivers, the most important and generally the most challenging step is recognizing the signs of depression and taking notice of their own symptoms. Then comes the next step: changing the behaviors and thought processes that contribute to the symptoms, causing depression.
About the Author
Zafer Elcik is the CEO and co-founder of Otsimo. At only 26, he is a thought leader that pioneered in democratizing special education needs for all children with Otsimo Special Education and Otsimo Speech Therapy.