Have you ever heard the advice to “put the oxygen mask on yourself first,” so you’ll be better able to help others with theirs? This is never more true than when you’re raising a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), more commonly known as autism.
Self-care is about far more than “me time.” As a caregiver, you need to keep your body and your mind in tip-top shape so you can cope with the challenges that crop up from day to day.
This means slowing down and looking for ways to take care of yourself so you’ll have plenty of you (physically, mentally, and emotionally) to go around.
Cut the Stress
Parents of kids with ASD often face more stress than those who deal with other disabilities. If left unchecked, caregivers can face breakdowns in relationships and even psychological disorders. Your health can suffer, too.
You can keep stress at bay and avoid getting overwhelmed by staying organized. This includes carving time out of your day just for yourself. Here are some ways you can do that:
Pinpoint the real causes of your stress. If you feel overwhelmed, break down the major issues you’re facing into easier bites. You’ll feel better, and you’ll have a plan.
Meditation may help, too. Pay attention to your thoughts and the way you talk to yourself. It’ll help you weed out useless worries.
Exercise. You don’t need to go to the gym. Walk, work in the garden, swim -- even dance in the kitchen. These are easy, effective ways to get some exercise.
If you want some adult company, take an exercise class. It’s is a great way to recharge your batteries and meet new people.
Get some z’s. When you need to recharge your body and mind, you can’t beat the power of a good night’s sleep. If you need extra help winding down, learn to meditate or practice relaxation exercises. It can help your body get ready for rest.
Play with your food. You likely spend lots of energy making sure your child eats nutritious meals. What about you? Spice up your personal menu by trying different fruits, veggies, and cuisines. Scope out new recipes to keep things interesting.
And eat on a set schedule each day. It’ll help you keep your energy up and your system on track.
This is the key not only to coping, but to maintaining a high quality of life. Your whole family will benefit.
Book time in your weekly calendar for fun and socializing. Try these tips to add balance to your busy days:
Find your friends. Yes, you’re the parent of a special-needs child. But you’re an individual, too. Remembering that you have your own identity makes you a better parent. Take time to reconnect and laugh with your friends. You’ll be glad you did.
Take up old hobbies. Track down your knitting needles, dust off the piano, or get out the golf clubs. Try new activities that catch your eye.
Take five. A few extra minutes first thing in the morning can center you and set the tone for the whole day. Gather your thoughts, take a long, warm shower, or jot some notes in a journal.
Can your partner or other family members take over parenting duties for a bit? A quick walk around the block or short drive to the store -- by yourself -- will give you some much-needed time to yourself.
Respite care is a hot topic in the ASD community. This means having a support system -- inside your home, outside of it, or both. It’ll give you a chance to take breaks to recharge and just be you. You can identify or form your support team using these methods:
- Ask your friends, family, and other parents you know for support connections you might not have thought about.
- Check with your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers for ideas or referrals. For instance, a teacher’s aide you really like might enjoy babysitting in her free time.
- You can also post notices for childcare help in newspapers and online, local religious communities, and at colleges and universities near you. Be sure to check all references carefully.
- Join a support group for parents of autistic children. Find out what works for others. You can find self-help communities by calling a local autism support center or looking online.