This article was contributed by Judy Clute, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in Raleigh and mom to a son with autism.
In the month of May, our thoughts turn to Mother’s Day and how we will celebrate Mom and all that she does all year. On this one day, moms are often given gifts of appreciation and perhaps a day to whatever they want to do. We feel pampered and special. But as a mom of two adult children, one of whom has autism, I know we often forget how important it is to take care of ourselves every day of the year so that we can be the mom our families need us to be.
Many articles have been written about research showing that mothers of children with autism are often in poorer health and more exhausted than mothers whose children do not have disabilities. Their stress level has even been compared to that of combat soldiers with PTSD. I can tell you from raising a child with autism for 23 years that the research is true. As an Autism Resource Specialist, I speak to parents on a daily basis who often do not even realize they are neglecting themselves, because they are so focused on providing the best care for their children.
Moms feel guilty if they take time for themselves. They think no one else can do it like they can; no one will care for their child exactly like they do. Well, they’re right. No one will handle your child’s day like mom, but the reality of it is, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take good care of our families.
What can we do to deal with the stress of the day-to-day demands we encounter raising our children? Here are a few things I encourage you to consider:
Take care of yourself first
One thing I learned over the years is to get up before my children. I wake up about 30 minutes before they do just to get myself together before I have to help them start their days. Mornings are often stressful, and being ready before my children are awake makes things less chaotic.
Find a support network
Parents of children with autism can feel so isolated. Find a group of people who can support you and with whom you feel comfortable sharing your experiences. Just talking to someone who will listen without judgement can be uplifting. Talking to other parents who have walked in your shoes is not only a way to feel connected but also a way to network and see how others handle similar issues in their lives. Surround yourself with positive people.
Take time away
We can’t imagine leaving for a few minutes to take a break, let alone for a few days. But sometimes respite care for the caregiver is what is needed. If this means you have to leave your child with your spouse, another relative, or a friend so you don’t fall apart, then do it. If you are struggling to leave for more than even a few hours, find something you enjoy doing, such as going for a walk, reading a book, or restarting a hobby you used to enjoy. The point is to find some time for yourself, perhaps just to breathe.
It’s OK if you don’t get it all done
Life is busy already with work, home, and all that school expects of our children. Many families that have children with autism also must add therapies and programs into their schedules. Pace yourself. Remember, it’s OK to let something fall off the plate once in a while. Not every day can be about therapy. A child with autism is first and foremost a child and needs to play and be a child. So on those days when you just can’t get something done or if you can’t make it to a therapy session, do not feel guilty. Take one day at a time and don’t sweat the small stuff!
Keep your sense of humor
A good laugh goes a long way. It’s not only good for your health physically and emotionally, but it also helps build relationships within your family and friends.
Focus on what’s most important
Don’t spend all of your time and effort on the child with autism at the expense of your marriage, family, other children, or friends. The best treatment for your child is a happy, healthy, and loving family.
Judy Clute can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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