10 Ways to Ease Stress for Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
The roles of mom and dad are never easy jobs, but for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the stress is often heightened … as we’re sure we don’t need to remind you! From watching for sensory triggers and managing meltdowns to keeping up with therapy and figuring out what your kid will actually eat for dinner, your life likely centers around your children. We are guessing your needs are put on the backburner and it’s time for you to get in a little “me” time.
You have probably heard that “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” so while you are busy taking care of everyone else, remember not to neglect your own needs. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally is not only good for your own health, but also for the well-being of those around you, since a less-stressed caregiver is usually more alert, attentive and open to the world around them.
Here are some effective ways to re-route your stress and give yourself a little extra love and attention.
10 Quick Tips for Coping with Stress While Caring for a Child with Autism
- Acknowledge your feelings.
It is ok to feel sad, angry, anxious, exhausted … you name it. Whatever emotions you are feeling, they are valid and it’s important to recognize them. Cyclical grieving is real and common, especially for those touched by autism. Talk to others about what you are experiencing so you can channel it constructively rather than ignoring or allowing the negative thoughts to consume you.
- Practice positive thinking.
All emotions have their place in life, but creating positive intentions and focusing on the unique joys makes every day more fun for you and those around you. Getting into the right mindset is easier said than done, so start by celebrating little accomplishments. You crossed off something on your to-do list today? Pat yourself on the back! Your kiddo got into the car without a tantrum? Show them praise! Acknowledge your daily wins and take note of the wonderful things around you.
Simple breathwork can make a world of difference, both mentally and physically.
- Slow down and breathe.
When life feels overwhelming, take a break, even if that break is only one minute long. Use that minute (or more) to refocus your thoughts and take a few deep breaths. Meditation and prayer are known to be quite powerful for many, but even some simple breathwork (like this one 1-minute deep breathing exercise from Headspace) can make a world of difference, both mentally and physically. Learning how to control your breath can not only calm your nerves, but also increase motivation and production. If you are unsure where to start, taking a moment to slowly count to 30 can also put you on the right path.
- Utilize ABA therapy, parent training and other available services to their fullest.
Applied behavior analysis for children with autism can take a huge weight off primary caregivers. By working with children to develop the skills they need for communication and independence, parents will have fewer “stresses” to think about, or at least will be able to focus in on certain goals. Services like Hopebridge’s parent training provide families with teaching strategies and tools to help children increase generalization of skills, which often makes home life easier.
- Cultivate a support system.
You do not need to be on this journey alone, but sometimes it takes a little work on your part to gain support. Others may not intuitively understand you need help, so ask for it! If you do not have local family you can rely on, use your village. Join autism-focused organizations (many have childcare during group sessions), talk to other parents within your therapy center, seek advice from your place of worship, or refer to other community resources that are available to you. Understand that it is a two-way street – you may have to put in a little effort to create relationships, but the payoff can be huge.
- Practice organization.
It seems counterintuitive that creating more work for yourself can ease stress, but organizing can help you feel more in control of your life. Start with something small, like creating a meal chart for the week or cleaning out the junk drawer in your kitchen. If it is something your kids will come in contact with (a toy bin or bathroom counter, for instance), make sure to talk about it with them in case they have challenges with change. By straightening small areas or establishing a routine for certain tasks, you will feel more powerful over these areas and could reduce little stresses for weeks to come now that a system or method is in place.
- Engage in counseling for yourself.
Talking to spouses, friends, family or other autism parents can be a benefit, but professional help can work wonders. There are psychologists and credentialed therapists specially trained in counseling individuals through the complicated emotions associated with parenting a child with autism, as well as providing strategies to cope with the day-to-day challenges. From adjusting to the diagnosis to dealing with everyday situations, these professionals will not judge you and may listen to your viewpoints in a way those closest to you are unable to do so. Ask your BCBA for local recommendations or contact your insurance to find out what services are available to you. If you’re not sure where to turn, 211.org provides information about health care services for families, among resources for a range of other concerns, and can point you in the right direction.
Counseling, support groups, and respite are all parts of good self-care.
- Seek respite.
Remember that “village” of yours? Use it! Parents need a true break every now and then to avoid burnout. Though it may seem impossible when you have a child who has special needs, there are options. Check out our blog post on babysitting options for children with autism if you need ideas on how to find respite.
- Commit 10 to 20 minutes for yourself each day.
It is important to reward yourself, but self-care is more than that; it is a “need,” much like food or water. Start small and try to dedicate at least 10 minutes a day for something you need or want…and we don’t mean responding to emails, folding laundry or conducting other chores. Walk, work out, write, read, dance, pray, power nap, practice yoga, knit, play an instrument, give yourself a facial–whatever relaxes you. Focusing on yourself for even short amounts of time like this can lead to better sleep and a brighter outlook on life overall.
- Take simple steps.
Taking care of yourself does not require massive changes. Think about what is realistic for you within your routine. Maybe you want to focus on exercising patience throughout your day. Or it could be a goal to drink more water or sit down at the table to eat meals rather than snacking on the go. Caring for yourself is good for your overall health, but is also good practice in caring for others, so do not skimp on it.
We want to help you get on track with #4. Allow us to provide your child with ABA therapy and other services to relieve some of the stress and give you time to focus on yourself. Fill out the form on our website now as the first step on a new journey to case for yourself and your family.
Do you have other tips for us? How do you practice self-care? Share with us and other families on our Hopebridge Facebook page.