A growing number of children in the Garden State continue to be diagnosed with autism, with 1 in every 34 kids on the spectrum, the highest percentage of any state in the nation.

According to Kate Fiske, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and associate director of te Behavioral and Research Services at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, autism presents a unique challenges for those diagnosed with it. But what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is how the condition also affects parents and siblings.

Fiske said, without question, parents of children with autism are the most stressed parents in the world because of “the difficulties with communication, difficulties with social skills, challenging behavior often that is exhibited," including aggression or self harm that people with autism suffer.

Fiske noted another part of the equation is parents having feelings of grief, anger and guilt that ebb and wane over the span of the child’s life. She said these feelings are connected to the initial diagnosis of autism when their child was young.

“There are parents who, even as their children are adolescents, are still looking at other adolescents and thinking about what might have been if their child had not been diagnosed with autism," she said.

“They’re also looking at their own lives. Perhaps you have parents who have made significant changes in their career or who have given up their career, or decided not to have more children."

She pointed out that many of these parents have trouble finding support from peers. She said many people, whether they be friends or relatives, assume the stress and grief parents may feel will get easier with time, but that’s not always true.

“There are always these transitions that children with autism have to make, whether they’re transitioning to school age, or whether they’re about to become a teenager and ... go to college,” she said.

“You have parents who at a very early age for themselves and also for their children have to be thinking far ahead into the future about what their child’s adulthood would look like.”

On April 3, Fiske will present Autism: The Family Experience, a program designed to help teachers, psychologists, behavior analysts, medical personnel and other professionals understand the challenges parents and siblings of individuals with autism face, and how to support them.

The program is 5 to 8 p.m. at Rutgers University in Piscataway, at Center Hall inside the Busch Student Center.

Fiske is the author of a new book, "Autism and the Family: Understanding and Supporting Parents and Siblings."

New Jersey 101.5 will present a special autism town hall later this month.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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