Five Ways for Parents with Children on the Autism Spectrum to Maintain Self-Care
- Socialize with Uplifters
- Read for Pleasure
- Take Extra Time Each Morning
- Carve Out Alone Time
- Recognize Emotions
While parenthood is generally associated with a sudden reassessment of priorities, caring for a child with an autism spectrum condition magnifies that shift. It can be too easy to ignore personal needs for the sake of a child. However, this leads to a steady erosion of adaptability. Resilience ebbs and the strain of placing personal needs last becomes apparent through reduced immunity to communicable disease, increasing irritability, difficulty maintaining focus, insomnia and other issues. The article below offers five ways parents can recharge and care for themselves, ensuring that they’ll always be ready to help their child navigate life.
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1. Socialize with Uplifters
Uplifters are people who support and offer encouragement. Parents with children who experience the world differently may find themselves surrounded by individuals who discourage them or contribute unwarrantedly negative sentiments unintentionally. While they may be cherished friends or relatives, it’s vital not to make them the only social outlet. Instead, make time to socialize with adults that bring beneficial ideas and emotions to the interaction. Make new friends who offer new concepts and an outlet for the adult person, not the adult plus a child often misunderstood by many. Parents also need to express and explore an identity independently of their roles with children, which is a fact many parents can forget.
2. Read for Pleasure
Most new parents bury themselves in parenting texts. This is especially true of those who suddenly become parents of children on the autism spectrum. However, even if one didn’t read for pleasure before, it becomes essential to do so now. The act of reading a physical book with a fictional narrative has specific effects on the human brain. Humans are, after all, a species designed to make and consume story—the very structure of linear time and selective organization of events is that of a narrative arc. Reading for pleasure offers a vital escape, a refreshment so that parents may return to the next big moment in their children’s lives with new vigor and enthusiasm. Reading has also been shown to enhance problem-solving skills and empathy, according to an article published by PLOS One.
3. Take Extra Time Getting Ready
Parents, especially of children with additional needs, often report not caring about their appearance when the going gets tough and stays that way. But the empirical experts—mothers, fathers, and caregivers who have been there—counsel that this is a dangerous mindset. Instead of leaping from the bed and rushing into all the tasks that must be done, take a moment to care about the person in the mirror. Dress to please yourself, take extra care with a familiar grooming routine and face the day ready for all it will surely hold.
4. Take Time Alone
Most parents would laugh at this tactic because the concept of uninterrupted time to oneself when there’s a small child is on the same continent seems like a joke. However, this is an important point to impose and enforce with oneself. To maintain sanity and emotional resilience, an individual must touch base with themselves, and that does require solitude. These can take any form that seems appropriate, but knowing that there is a break in routines that are highly stressful can help individuals to endure them with good grace. Take a quick trip to the library, go window shopping, dig in the garden, work in the workshop on a personal project or just take a shower or bath without a set time limit.
5. Recognize and Honor Emotional States
Parents of children with an autism spectrum condition are often cast as heroes, saints, and martyrs by those around them. This puts a great deal of pressure on a parent or caregiver never to experience an emotion that is deemed “bad” or socially undesirable. But children are, even when they’re the most beautiful human beings, a substantial handful. The added stress of helping guide a child with additional support needs, who may have trouble expressing emotions in a way that isn’t profoundly hurtful, is often enough to defeat even the most dedicated parent. That’s why it’s vital to acknowledge hurt, anger, frustration, and even grief when they occur. According to Autism Speaks, keeping a journal helps parents to assess and process their own emotions before they become toxic.
While the care and protection of a child with an autism spectrum condition are vital, that does not negate the personality, needs, emotions, or health of the caregivers. Even on the most idyllic days, it can be difficult for parents to acknowledge that they have requirements beyond those of their child, but it must be a part of regular practice. Self-care need not be elaborate, but it must be. Parents must remember to take a moment for themselves so that they will be entirely in the moment when they are needed most.