The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”, conveys the message that it takes many people to provide a safe, healthy environment for children where they can be nurtured and flourish.
According to Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977), Brofenbrenner’s ecological system theory highlights the importance of community for a child’s development. The ecological system theory regards the environment, from the immediate setting of family and school to broader environmental influences as a pivotal aspect to a child’s holistic wellbeing. According to Brofenbrenner, a child’s environment can be divided into five subsystems: microsystem, mesosystem, macrosystem, ecosystem and chronosystem.
The microsystem is dictated to be the most inﬂuential level of the ecological systems theory. It comprises the most immediate environmental settings, such as family (including grandparents and siblings) and school. It is essential not only for the child but also for the caregiver to include others’ in the caregiving of the child. It might seem easier to do everything on your own as delegating in itself adds another item to the to-do list. However, having the constant presence of other family members such as grandparents or cousins around adds value to the child’s development and eases the load of the caregivers (parents).
Caregivers are known to experience feelings such as isolation, anger, irritation and more due to the overwhelming responsibility entangled in balancing the multidimensional needs of a child with ASD.
Previous studies done in this area by Marvin Zuckerman have reported that parents of children with ASD experience heightened stress, overburden, and a sense of self-blame. Having your “village” around can help to alleviate the stress that accompanies caregiving.
Things to think about when forming a team in caregiving:
Utilise the strengths of the individuals around you.
Everything may not turn out perfect at first, but teamwork can build up over time with the effort that each family member puts into it. Ensure adequate communication at all times and take time to acknowledge what’s working and what isn’t.
It’s important to recognise the signs of burnout. Stress and burnout can present in different ways: emotional symptoms such as feeling upset or worried, mental symptoms such as having low energy and difficulty concentrating, or physical symptoms such as fatigue and changes in appetite and sleep. (National University Health System, 2022)
The interactions within microsystems can be personal and are important for supporting the child’s development. As the five systems are interrelated, the healthy and positive functioning of the microsystem cascades down to the other levels, either aiding or hindering the child’s development.
The mesosystem, which follows after the microsystem, consists of the interactions between the child’s microsystems, such as the interactions between the child’s parents and teachers. It is beneficial for your child to witness healthy, positive interactions between parents and teachers.
In a study done by (Tathgur & Kang, 2021), it was reported that caregivers experienced disputes with their spouses, resulting in strained couple relationships. The couples also reported experiencing anxiety due to the lack of understanding about the general signs of the child with ASD in the starting years, resulting in occasional fights and aggression toward each other. However, improved health and behavioural conditions of the child with professional support from the staff in autistic clinics and schools resulted in better coping among caregivers. This shows that allowing more people into the caregiving circle ultimately helps primary caregivers cope better, potentially leading to better developmental results for the child.
As parents who are just starting your journey, you can begin by generating a list of people you can trust and allowing them to help in your child’s life. After all, it truly takes a village to raise a child.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American psychologist, 32(7), 513.
National University Health System (2022) Avoiding caregiver burnout: Caring for children with ASD: NUHS, Default. Available at: https://nuhsplus.edu.sg/article/avoiding-caregiver-burnout-caring-for-children-with-asd/ (Accessed: February 5, 2023).
Social Sci LibreTexts 10.8: Marvin Zuckerman and the sensation seeking personality trait [Internet]. Autism Speaks. [cited 2020December11], https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Psychology/Book%3A_Personality_Theory_in_a_Cultural_Context_(Kelland)/10%3A_Trait_Theories_of_Personality/10.08%3A_Marvin_Zuckerman_and_the_Sensation_Seeking_Personality_Trait (2006, p. 1–14).
Tathgur, M.K. and Kang, H.K. (2021) Challenges of the caregivers in managing a child with autism spectrum disorder- A qualitative analysis, Indian journal of psychological medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8450736/#bibr8-02537176211000769 (Accessed: February 5, 2023).