Caring for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. The extra demands of parenting responsibilities for a special needs child can create unimaginable stress. Taking time for yourself is challenging for any parent, but for parents of children with autism, it can seem impossible. Many parents find themselves exhausted and at times at their wits end. Small things that many of us take for granted like drinking coffee while it’s still hot or having five uninterrupted minutes in the bathroom are often out of reach.
Laura Herd, advocate for Autism says, “Parents are constantly giving, pouring, and dishing out. They rarely get time for themselves because really, they stop caring about themselves. It is not a sad thing. It’s a reality. Special needs parents are stronger than they care to admit. This is why they lose themselves. They have no other choice but to be strong for their children and for their family. To take time away from that would look like a pilar collapsing from underneath a bridge. This is their life.”
Trying to balance your time and energy with the needs of your other children, the needs of your marriage and your own personal needs is not easy. It takes focused attention to find a good balance and put it into practice.
Here are things you can do to start practicing self-care:
Take a breather, even if it’s just 10 minutes at a time. Find time to take care of yourself, to run errands, relax or enjoy time with your partner or other family members.
Focus on what you’ve accomplished in your day and work to not disappoint yourself by focusing on what you didn’t get done.
Focus on the positive. Nothing will ever be perfect. Notice the small things that show you there have been improvements in your child or any accomplishments, no matter how small, you’ve been able to achieve in your day.
Make time for family and friends. It’s easy to begin to feel isolated. Remember you are never alone and if those around you don’t understand your situation, find friends who do. It’s important to find someone you can talk to.
Get involved in the Autism community. There are numerous support groups that can give you advice and people who will understand what you are going through.
Find an interest or activity outside of Autism. While it can be difficult to get away, an outside interest allows you to do things you enjoy and will refresh your energy.
Realize and appreciate your strength. Parenting a special needs child is one of the hardest jobs one can have.