How Do I Care for My Child with Autism?
By: Dr. Karla Heredia, Psy.D., LMFT
With an abundance of services and therapies for children & adults who have been diagnosed with Autism, many parents may experience feeling overwhelmed. In addition, parents find themselves overworked with therapies, doctor appointments, IEP’s, school meetings, extracurricular activities, financial strains, family conflict, work and social withdrawal. How does a parent with a special needs child find time for self-care with all the demands of daily life?
Taking care of your child diagnosed with Autism can be rewarding both professionally and personally. However, being a caregiver can be emotionally and physically demanding. Overtime a caregiver may experience exhaustion, burnout, irritability, depression, anxiety, weakened immune system, digestive distress and so on. If you are taking care of your child with Autism it is essential you intentionally care for yourself. Taking care of yourself is necessary so that you continue to function both for you and your child.
A few ways to consciously care for yourself include:
1) Deep Breathing: Also called “belly breathing” can help ease stress. By taking slow, deep breaths through your nose, then holding your breath for a second or two and slowly breathing out through your mouth you are intentionally slowing your breath and allowing stress to fade away.
Deep Relaxation Techniques: There are many strategies to help relax your body. a. One of them is a body scan meditation where you focus your attention on various parts of your body while practicing deep breathing throughout.
b. Visualization or safe place imagery involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go all of your tension, anxiety and worry. This may include a tropical beach or a favorite childhood place. While visualizing your safe place you will be engaging in deep breathing and incorporating as many of your senses as possible. This may include what you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Enjoy the feeling of your worries drifting away as you slowly explore your peaceful place.
2) Nourishing your body: By having a balanced and well-rounded diet you are helping your immune system fight against disease. It also helps energize you, increase your focus and helps with your mood.
3) Exercise: It can help increase your energy levels and may reduce your risk of chronic disease. Studies have also shown it may improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety & stress.
4) Sleep: Studies show if you sleep 7-9 hours on a daily basis you will be more alert, improve your memory, reduce stress and may prevent chronic diseases.
5) What makes you happy? If you are able to find some time during your week to engage in an activity that makes you happy find a way to do it.
6) Ask for help: How do I find time to care for myself? If you have family members or friends willing to help, take it. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed for it. There are also programs out there that provide caregivers with temporary rest from caregiving including Respite care and IHSS (In home support services).
7) Guilt and shame: Recognizing the inner critic and allowing the space for these thoughts to come and go. It is common to feel guilt or shame when experiencing thoughts that do not align with your role as a caregiver. This is why it is important to join a support group.
8) Parent Support Groups: support groups are an important element in helping parents cope with the ASD diagnosis. Support groups provide parents a sense of belonging, encouragement, resources, and advocacy.
9) Self- Compassion and being kind to oneself. This means giving ourselves the recognition and validation for the complexity of emotions we may experience due to caregiving. Give yourself a little credit. You are doing a lot! Be kind with yourself.
So How do you care for your child with Autism? I like to answer this question by exploring how you care for yourself and making sure your self-care is a priority. Caregiving stress is a condition that is real. This experience impacts the caregiver and the family. By putting yourself first, you can avoid burnout and in the long run, both you and your child with autism will be better off if you use a few hours in your day to focus on you.