Looking after you
Living with a person with an ASD affects the entire family – parents, siblings and extended family members. Meeting the complex needs of a person with an ASD can put families under a great deal of stress – emotional, financial and sometimes even physical. There are many positives that come from having a child with ASD. For one thing, the carer is the most important person in the child’s life and the bond is so strong. Having a child with ASD is a celebration of a different way of thinking and being and what that can add to the world we live in.
However, the demands of raising a child with ASD and the constant family routine management may come at a cost for the carer. The better that parents/carers can look after themselves, the more effectively they can help their child to maximise their quality of life and that of their families.
Here are some tips to looking after your own wellbeing.
- Start with simple changes—If you have a child with autism and feel overwhelmed, sometimes starting with the simple changes can make the biggest difference in your overall functioning. This could look like making sure you get enough sleep at night, exercise regularly, and schedule some time for yourself. If these tasks seem unmanageable, you can focus on even smaller changes such as slowing down through your daily routine, drinking more water, or asking for help with simpler tasks. You might be surprised how much of your stress level is within your control, and you may find that caring for yourself has an immediate positive impact on your child’s functioning as well.
- Focus on reality and not the what ifs—It’s easy for any parent to become anxiously focused on how their child is developing, but parents of children with autism are at particular risk for excessively worrying about their children and what challenges they may face in the future. If you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself whether you’re focused on the reality-based needs of your child or the future “What ifs.” Asking, “What is my responsibility to my child today and to myself?” can help you direct your focus back to what you can actually control.
- Find reprieve outside of work—For many parents of children with autism, work is one of the few places where they can find a break from caring for their child. Ideally, caregivers should have time and spaces outside of work where they can focus on their emotional and physical health, their interests, and other important relationships. Sometimes fear of how their child will adjust to a new caregiver can keep parents from seeking out this support, but giving your child the opportunity to interact with other adults will benefit both you and your child. If you are a stay at home Mother, use the time that your child is at school to focus your attention on something that engages you and helps you.
- Use Your Community - It’s not surprising that research has shown that parents of children with autism who access support groups are less likely to experience stress than those who don’t or can’t. It can be very helpful to talk to people who are walking the same path as you. Parents who understand what you are going through and have similar stories. Support groups can help you feel heard but also connect you to resources and information that can reduce the stress of parenting. Please see our directory of services which has support groups and other autistic specific organisations listed in Co. Louth & Co. Meath.
- Nurture other relationships – where possible schedule in some alone time with your partner and have some dedicated one on one time with your other children.
- Relaxation Techniques - Practise relaxation techniques – meditation or breathing techniques can help with stress or poor sleep. You can learn relaxation techniques from an instructor or course, or apps such as Smiling Mind or those available from ReachOut.
- Mindfulness - Practising mindfulness – mindfulness is about focusing on what’s going on right now rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. This can help you to enjoy day-to-day pleasures and reduce stress. You can learn mindfulness from an instructor or course, or organisations such as the Black Dog Institute have tips on mindfulness.
- I am not perfect and that is ok – remember that each and every one does the best they can. Be compassionate to yourself and to other members of your family. You are all in this together.
Helpful resources - information and wellbeing
- Family stress and autism spectrum disorder - Raising Children Network
- Caring for me – Carer Gateway
- Brothers and sisters - sibling issues