Guest post by Kristine Kenny, MSN, RN, CPN, CAS
Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) carry a significant high level of stress. Self-care may seem unattainable, however, several studies have shown it is the antidote to burnout and subsequent long term health ailments.
What is self-care? Self-care is taking steps to tend to your physical, emotional and mental health needs to be your best self. Everyday Health states self-care is not synonymous with self-indulgence or being selfish. Self-care means taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, you can do your job, and you can help care for others.
Self Care for the Parent of a Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Self-care looks different for everyone. It can range from taking a bath, exercising, practicing mindfulness or getting a massage. It can be free or cost you money. This article will discuss self-care strategies for autism caregivers.
Why Do Autism Caregivers Need Self-Care?
Research has showed that parental burnout is a high among caregivers of children with ASD. They have to manage the child with ASD needs, their multiple doctor appointments, therapies, school meetings, etc. throughout their lifespan. In addition they are tasked with other daily living tasks -a career, other children, a home to run and a marriage.
Burnout can lead to depression, anxiety and a host of other physical illnesses and ailments. Research shows that people who care for themselves are better caregivers for the long haul. Self-care is a vital component to the health and well-being of these caregivers.
Self-Care Strategies for the Parent of a Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Understanding that you are at risk for developing parental burnout, anxiety, depression, etc. due to the stress related to raising a child with special needs can be fuel for you to start your self-care journey. Research studies have shown the high levels of depression and burnout that caregivers experience over time and the toll it takes on the entire family system. Knowing this upfront can empower you to make good decisions regarding your self-care and health.
- Give yourself grace and time to adjust.
Giving yourself grace along the journey is a self-care gift. Autism Speaks advises to be patient with yourself. They caution it will take some time to understand your child's disorder and the impact it has on you and your family. Difficult emotions may resurface along the path. There is a grieving process that needs to take place. Autism Speaks offers a toolkit designed especially for the parent called A Parent’s Guide to Autism. It is downloadable and free of charge.
- Double task
Learn to double task. This means doing two productive things at the same time. An example would be taking a walk and making phone calls on your walk or listening to a podcast while you are cleaning the house. Double tasking will allow you to get through your to-do lists while getting in some self-care at the same time.
- Ask for help
Asking for help can be difficult for many people. But the sooner you realize your health depends on the help of others, the more self-care you will be able to carve out for yourself. Consider obtaining help in the areas of respite care, support groups, and therapy.
- Respite care in any form.
Sometimes finding help for your child with ASD from family and friends can be difficult. Autism Speaks recommends to look at their online resource guide for finding respite care for your state. Respite care can take on many forms. It can mean assistance with your child with ASD or assistance in other areas of your life. Either way it is an opportunity for you to take a break from the daily grind.
Look closely at areas in your life that you need help with like housecleaning, grocery shopping, outdoor chores or babysitting your other children. Get creative with your financial budget in ways that can help you obtain some type of relief so you can squeeze in some self-care.
- Make a list.
Stress can actually make us forget things. It’s a biologic phenomenon that happens to our brains when we are stressed or anxious. Making a list allows you to have a plan and stay focused. We may not get to everything on that list, but at least we can see what we have done by crossing off each task as we go.
Make a list each week covering everything you need to do for your child with ASD, your career, your other children, etc. Try to do this on Sunday to set yourself up successfully for the week. Put your name on that list and schedule self-care time. Start small, like 20 minutes a day. Over a week this adds up. If you don’t get to it every day, don’t stress. As long as it is on your radar, by the end of the week you may have had over an hour dedicated to your self-care needs. Small wins make big gains.
- Support Groups
The National Autism Association has a direct link to local support groups in your state and vicinity. Support groups can be done in person or virtually allowing you access to the others who are experiencing similar issues on a local, national or global level. These support groups can be a valuable asset to your well-being and emotional health. Knowing that you are not alone on this journey is validating and empowering. Groups can also be a place to share valuable resources with one another.
- Therapy for you
Talking with a trained therapist may seem like a daunting task at first, but having a therapist with you along this journey can be crucial for your mental health needs. A therapist can also help you through the grief process that is part of having a child with ASD. An added bonus is that most therapists can do virtual appointments so you don’t have to leave your house. Therapy can be a self-care gift to yourself and to your loved ones along the twists and turns of this lifetime caregiving path.
Looking for more information, you’ll enjoy these:
- How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctors
- Autism 101- What is Autism Spectrum Disorder
- How to Advocate for Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a Medical Setting
- Siblings of Autistic Children: Common Concerns and Effective Strategies
- How to Connect With Parents (Locally and Worldwide) After an Autism Diagnosis
Key Takeaways About Self Care for the Parent of a Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Self-care is a life long journey as is raising a child with ASD. Give yourself grace as you begin this journey to yourself. It doesn’t matter which forms of self-care that you choose, as long as you are doing it on a daily basis. Over time it adds up and will make a lasting difference on your physical, mental and emotional health. This in turn will benefit your child with ASD, your family and other relationships in your life.
Kris is a mom of 3, one of whom has autism. She is a pediatric nurse, assistant nursing professor and author. When she has free time, she enjoys exercising, baking and binge watching TV series. Learn more about her at Autism Healthcare Books!
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