There have been an alarming number of murder-suicides being reported in the media, and they are centered around parents that have either killed their child, or killed their children and themselves because their child(ren) has autism. It's heart-wrenching to hear about, devastating to all to know that someone would fear Autism so much, either from the results or responsibility that come with having an autistic child, that they would resort to taking a life (be it their childs, their own, or both).
I'm not going to comment on the mindset of these parents, the psychology that would drive them to such extreme, final measures, because I don't know them. All I know is what the media reports, and they tend to focus more on the sensationalist shock value than the actual facts behind it. But needless to say, there is a fear, an unmitigated terror, of Autism.
Why so much fear? Because it's unknown, and unpredictable. Parents do not know in what form Autism is going to take in their child. For instance, when my son was growing up, he loved being indoors, and never once tried to walk outside. I thought life was going to be easy with him, until he started going outside. Now he roams the neighborhood if left unchecked, and has several likely haunts, making it difficult to find him. It's frightening, because we live by a pretty busy street, and too many people speed down our little isolated neighborhood road. This desire to roam about outside caught us completely by surprise.
There is also a related guilt that comes with having a child who is autistic. An autistic child tends to behave inappropriately, often in very public places. Society tends to be less than understanding when such an event occurs, and judgment is immediately rendered on the poor parent who is trying their best to manage their autistic child in the middle of an autistic episode.
There is a lot of pressure on the family in general, as siblings see themselves as not getting as much attention as the autistic child, and extended family often questioning the parental methods of raising the autistic child. This is probably the most damaging to the parents of the autistic child, as they are generally working with the best knowledge they have from sources that are close to the matter (behavioral psychologists, special education teachers, etc.). The last thing they need is a member of the family suggesting they are not disciplining their child properly, or they are being too lenient with them.
So what's the answer with all the pressure of having an autistic child? Sit back, watch them, and get engaged with your child. He or she is your child, and they often know what they need. If they like one particular food, go for it! If they like being hugged constantly, all the better! If they need time outside, let them go, and keep the activity carefully managed.
The key, at least in what we have found with our son (anecdotal evidence here, take with a grain of salt), is to just set boundaries, and keep him within those boundaries. If other people don't agree with the boundaries, that's their problem. They often have their own kids and their own issues, which they should attend to and not try to "fix" others. In using this method, our son tends to be very well behaved, and often his meltdowns can be easily diffused with a little effort.
I can't tell you that I have all the answers, because every autistic child is different. They may be high functioning, like my son, may have Aspergers and can speak their concerns, or may have low-functioning autism and therefore have more severe issues. But you as a parent have the benefit of one thing: constant observation. You know your child better than anyone else.
The best advice I can offer is grow a thick skin when it comes to other people judging you and your autistic child. There is no other way around it. People with disabilities have been ridiculed for centuries, those who are different have been hated, feared, and burned at the stake for centuries. That's a lot of social momentum to fight to learn "acceptance" without knowing someone personally.
Perhaps one day Autism will no longer be feared, and people will stop acting as a qualified psychologist without having any of the facts. Until that day it's up to us, as parents, to find a way to provide as safe an environment for our children as possible.