Self Care Matters for Parents of Children with Autism

2/9/2021 Rachel Jamieson, BT

Self care isn’t selfish. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our current world has illustrated the importance of taking care of ourselves. We all need self care.

Self care is especially important for parents, caregivers and other loved ones of children with autism. Parenting is not easy. It is often easier to focus on others instead of ourselves and our own needs. We know that you care about others, and we care about you. Investing in your own self-care should be a priority to help both you and your family.

Self care has three main categories: emotional, mental and physical health. These three categories of self care build on each other. If we are not taking care of our emotional health it affects our mental health and physical health, and vice versa.

Emotional

Emotional self care involves caring for your emotional health in order to attain emotional well being. Especially as a parent of a child who has autism, taking care of your emotional health is essential. Emotions are real, and your emotions are valid. Talking about your emotions is important and healthy whether you speak with a friend, family member, therapist or even just your journal. Journaling is a good practice to let out thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself time and space to feel and experience your emotions— it makes you human.

“If I’m not checking in with myself, and being honest about my day-to-day capacity to manage time, and create opportunities, then I can’t show up for other people,” Norman AIM Clinic BCBA Danielle Lombardo said, “If I can’t show up for myself, and give myself the love that I want to give others, then I can’t care for my family, or my job or anyone who may depend on me day to day.”

Mental

Mental self care and well-being includes activities that help to calm your mind and reduce your stress levels. Parenting stress is real. Have you ever had a day where your child is going through meltdowns? The feeling of your child affects your own emotions, too. To help ease stress, breathing exercises can be helpful. For example, count to 10 and focus on your breathing. Sometimes mental self care involves mindfulness, or giving your full attention to a task. This can be fun! For example, many parents enjoy adult coloring books as a form of self care. It can seem silly to color as adults, but you’d be surprised. This can help you to both take care of yourself and release your inner child.

Physical

Physical self care might sound like the easiest thing to do, but it’s also the easiest to forget about. As a parent or caregiver, it is important to engage in movement that you find enjoyable to take care of yourself.

One way to get started is to walk when and where you can. Get those steps in. Hydrate. Sleep is also key to taking care of your physical health. Having kids can make this challenging, but planning ahead may help. Consider giving yourself a bedtime. If your children have a bedtime at 8 p.m. make it a priority to finish your day by that bedtime, to not only get them to bed on time, but yourself, too.

As a parent, it’s hard to find time in your day or even think about self care. After a day of work, caring for your children and doing what needs to be done, you may often be so exhausted that you are ready to just lay your head on the pillow.

Don’t be afraid to take a break and ask yourself, “What did you do for myself today?” Sometimes, you may feel like you have daily challenges as a parent of a child with special needs and that you don’t have time for yourself. However, to best care for others, you need to take an active role in protecting your own well-being and happiness.

Give yourself grace. It is OK to step back sometimes in those hard moments of stress, take a break and even cry. Find time for yourself. After you drop your child off at the clinic, school or with a loved one, take that time to listen to your favorite podcast, an audiobook or just take time to jam to your favorite song in the car. Take advantage of those moments, whether it’s one minute or an hour. Spend time with your people or find your people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A helpful resource and for support groups is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Community matters. You are not alone. Find people with similar interests or experiences.. Given COVID, there are many opportunities to find a support community online.

Remember that self care is not selfish. Take care of yourself. This ensures that you can continue to be the best version of yourself both for you and your child with special needs.

For further reading:

https://www.nami.org/Home

https://iheartintelligence.com/emotional-self-care/

https://www. projecthelping.org

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