Supporting Mental Health Within the Autism Community
May 01, 2022
May 01, 2022
At Hopebridge, our kids mean the world to all of us. Whether you’re a parent or grandparent, you’re one of our Hopebridge Heroes working directly or indirectly with our kiddos, or you’re a partner of ours in some other fashion, there are likely times (or maybe all the time) that it feels like your life revolves solely around these children. And in our roles, that’s how it should feel, right?
Yes, this is a natural feeling, but our mental health, needs and wants are also important, and so are those of your coworkers, therapists, friends and family. Take this note as permission to focus on your mental health, too.
“This is something so many of us in the autism community can do better for ourselves and each other. We live such busy lives that it can be easy to forget,” said Taryn Goldberg, PhD, NCSP, at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers in Florida. “It affects all of us at different levels. As clinicians, our passion for this field and for our families can sometimes set us on a track to ignore our own needs. As families, you may have a lot going on with the stressors of parenting in general, as well as those related to raising a child with autism.”
While checking in with ourselves is important, Dr. Goldberg thinks it’s important to be aware of the mental health of those around us. It is impossible to know what everyone else is going through, so it can be helpful to check in with each other from time to time.
Dr. Goldberg gave us some tips from her background in psychology on how to better support ourselves and each other.
Lately, it seems like every time we scroll through Instagram or TikTok or turn on the news or a podcast, we’re being fed information about self-care. From spa days and meditation tips to social media breaks and finance-focused “dates” with yourself, everyone’s idea of self-care is different … but is that all that mental health is about?
While self-care is important, mental health goes beyond treating yourself through yoga classes, nutrition and relaxation. Attending to your mental health also means checking in with the state of your mind.
Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being. Some mental health concerns or challenges include depression, anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder, but there are many other factors that can contribute to a person’s mental health.
If anything is impairing your work or life-functioning, which can include but is not limited to the conditions listed above, Dr. Goldberg notes that seeking support from a professional is essential. Depending upon the challenges and needs, this could mean therapy, counseling and/or medication, but the therapist may also suggest engaging in self-care in some format.
“The good thing about self-care is that everyone can engage in it, whether or not they have a specific diagnosis,” said Dr. Goldberg. “Everyone should get involved in the things that make them happy to prevent burnout.”
Dr. Goldberg understands the significance of mental health, not only for herself or her patients, but also for the families and clinicians she works with in the centers. To make sure others are taking time to focus on themselves, she finds creative ways to encourage them. For instance, while teaching classes, her “icebreaker” is typically a question about what makes everyone happy or how they engage in self-care. She does this to remind them to keep doing the things that spark joy and motivate them, whether that be spending time with their dog, painting or reading a book.
In order to be more mindful of mental health in our everyday lives, Dr. Goldberg offers these tips for families and therapists within the autism community:
Give yourself – and others – a little grace.
We’re all human. No one is perfect and learning is part of life. If things do not go exactly as planned, give yourself some grace. The same goes for those around you. We’re not always privy to the struggles of others, so while those challenges should not give them a “free pass,” it can sometimes help to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and give them the benefit of the doubt. Learning from our mistakes and supporting each other along the way can help our community continue to evolve for the better.
Acknowledge all the things you’re doing right!
When you’re feeling overwhelmed it can be helpful to take a step back and list off the things that you are doing well. You are doing the best you can to provide an enriching environment for your children, whether that’s at home or the therapy center, so remind yourself of this from time to time. If you want to give another parent or therapist a boost of confidence, consider doing the same for them.
Remember: no one is to blame.
Parents, we know you love your children and that autism is a part of what makes them who they are. There is also no doubt that the condition can lead to additional stress for your family at times. It is vital to remember that an autism diagnosis is no one’s “fault,” as it is not something that was created in the environment. Let’s remove this stigma!
Care for the caregiver.
Clinicians, in addition to taking care of yourself and your patients, check on your kiddos’ parents and guardians, as well. Their child is the focus of their life and parenting a child with autism or another developmental disorder carries its own challenges. Be there for them and support them through any burnout they may be experiencing.
Check in on autism siblings.
Like parents, monitoring the mental health of brothers and sisters is crucial. Make sure they know they are just as important as their siblings. Schedule one-on-one time with them to highlight their strengths and care for their needs.
Make it part of your routine.
Keeping up with mental health is an ongoing process. Self-care is not just one thing you can set and forget about. Make sure it is something you address often.
We are all about the kids here at Hopebridge, but we’re here for you, too. A healthy, happy kid is that much stronger when their families and therapy teams also feel supported.
Our range of services cover everything from autism testing to ABA therapy to family guidance sessions and more, all of which are personalized for your family’s needs. Reach out to us to learn more about the autism therapies that can be tailored to the needs of your family.
That support also extends to our BCBAs, RBTs and other current and future Hopebridge Heroes. The Hopebridge team is here to offer mentorship, guidance, training and growth to set you up for personal and professional development that not only enhances your life, but also enables you to help your kiddos flourish. As part of this commitment, Hopebridge offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which serves as a helping hand for improving their life at home and work. The program’s resources include counseling sessions, care assistance, bereavement services, college planning, legal consultation, financial consultation and an array of other “WorkLife” articles, tutorials and videos available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To find out more about the opportunities available to join our team, visit our list of open positions.
*Informed consent was obtained from the participants in this article. This information should not be captured and reused without express permission from Hopebridge, LLC.
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