As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you tend to spend huge amounts of time and energy on your child’s behalf. Dealing with sudden meltdowns, potty training issues, countless therapy sessions and more can be incredibly stressful. It can drain you both physically and emotionally. While it is important to help your child overcome challenges, it is equally important that you get the support you need. Taking care of yourself is not an act of selfishness – it is a necessity. After all, being physically and emotionally strong allows you to be a better parent to your child in need.
Any parent can fall into the habit of neglecting his or her own needs. However, for a parent raising a child with ASD, the risk of self-neglect is likely to be much higher. Each parent’s experiences may vastly differ because the symptoms of their children with ASD often differ. This difference can add to the stress and loneliness you may be feeling because your friends and loved ones are unable to fully relate to the unique challenges you and your family face. Practicing self-care can have an immense beneficial impact on quality of life for anyone, especially for the parent of a child with ASD. Take the time to practice a few self-care strategies – physical self-care, emotional self-care and spiritual self-care. Distress, decompress, and regroup – and bring back much needed clarity to your life.
1. Take a walk and exercise
Walking triggers the release of endorphins, which is a potent brain chemical that diminishes the perception of pain. In a way, endorphins act as sedatives. They trigger a positive feeling in the body known as “runner’s high” – not to mention they are great for the heart, weight loss and help fight off depression. More so, regular exercise and nutritious food are necessary in order to withstand stress. Try to plan your day so that you include both.
2. Take a nap and a hot shower
A nap can do wonders for your emotional and physical health. Even if only for a short period of time such as 30 minutes, sleep is a necessary human function. It allows your brain to recharge and your body to rest. A nap will help to fight off sleep deprivation and allow your body to receive that much needed energy boost.
A nice and hot shower will also help relax your overworked limbs and muscles. While this is certainly short term relief, it really can do wonders after a long day. Lavender soaps and body gels are also excellent relaxation utilities for both the mind and body. Some even find it beneficial to add a hot shower to their bedtime routine so that they know to expect stress relief at the end of an exhausting day.
3. Listen to soothing music or read a book
Relaxing your mind and body all the while reducing stress can be achieved by listening to instrumental and soft music. Music has the ability to quickly shift our mood and affect our subconscious mind where negative thoughts feed on our fears. Even cuddling up with a good book is a great and healthy way to escape from day to day stresses that come from being the parent of a child with ASD.
4. Get a massage
Massages reduce muscle tension and prompt immediate stress release. Getting a massage allows your body to go into a state of relaxation and helps you unwind. Whether you use a professional or ask a family member or friend to give your muscles a quick rub, the overall effects target your trigger points – which may aid in relieving migraines and pain associated with stress. For stress relief on a regular basis, make a massage a part of your weekly routine.
5. Talk to someone who understands
Sometimes, simply asking for help is all you may need. You may be feeling agitated, lost or sad and sharing these feelings with a friend or family member can help you get through the tough times. Other times, despite your best effort to prevent or manage parental stress, things spiral out of control and it becomes too much for you to deal with on your own or with your support system. In such instances, you may consider taking to a physiatrist, physiologist or even a counselor. Each in their own way is suited to assist you to find answers to problems, without judging you. Their job is to give you time to talk, cry, yell or just ponder. So when you recognize that you are feeling overwhelmed, take action. It is entirely up to you to seek any type of help you need.
It is essential that you make sure your life doesn’t become all about autism. Make time for yourself and other family members. It is easy to establish routines and systems customized to your family’s needs. It is also easy for unforeseen events to take over. That’s ok – that’s life. Think about the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis and try to address them for a healthier start to the day. Set your priorities and figure out how to make them work, together with your family. Whether it is a regular Sunday dinner night or Taco Tuesdays, make it a habit of creating a weekly routine and small family traditions.
What’s more, a balanced lifestyle can go a long way in reducing stress and anxiety. Are you getting enough exercise? Are you sleeping enough hours every night and making healthy eating choices? Take a little bit of time to get yourself back to neutral. Catch up on your sleep, do yoga, meditate, go out for coffee with a friend, work on your gardening, try new recipes, join a book club – do something that makes you happy and fulfilled. The happier and well-rested you are, the better choices you will make for your child and your family.
As a parent, you are biologically programmed to take care of your child from the very moment they are born. Being told that your child has autism can be rather difficult to accept. You want so badly to believe that every child develops at his or her own rate. You may run with that thought for a longer period of time because the reality of the situation may take a bit of getting used to. Then, you will begin to read more and more about ASD. Once you can accept the diagnosis and learn to manage your own stress, you will find that raising a child will autism can also provide many unique and joyous moments. Embrace all of your emotions and use them to encourage acceptance and compassion.
No child is perfect – some children are fussy, some are poor students and some have autism. Learn to accept this disorder as a specific development need rather than something that is altering your life in a way that makes it worse. Whatever you do, remember to take care of yourself. Most parents may attest to the fact that they are good at operating on auto pilot. Sometimes, your body functions and moves in a robotic way - same thing, yet different day. You are not helping anyone, least of all your child, when you are not functioning at your best. Your time to rejuvenate is just as important as every other aspect of your life so try to relax and enjoy yourself. Maintain an identity of your own separate from that of being a parent. You owe it to your child and you owe it to yourself to be happy and lead a balanced life.