As the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you are a living, breathing superhero. You take on the roles of your child’s support, teacher, caregiver, friend, advocate, and so many more during your daily life. There is no shortage of new information about Autism Spectrum Disorder to take in, new behavior and academic plans to review, and new milestones and joys to celebrate with your child.
When you are caring for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of never considering your feelings, mental health, and need for self-care. You may even find yourself feeling guilty for wanting to take some time for yourself to relax and recharge.
The truth is that, though your child is your number one priority, it is just as important to take care of yourself. Living with and loving a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder has many joys attached to it, but can also be quite challenging. Parents of children with Autism need to consider their self-care and mental health to be the best caregiver and support system they can be for their child and the rest of their family.
Read on for ideas about self-care for busy parents, including the merits and importance of counseling therapy.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects an individual’s actions and their ability to interact with others. It also affects communication and learning, requiring the individual to receive therapies to mitigate the effects of the disorder. About one in every 68 children in the United States gets a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder per year.
You have likely heard Autism referred to as ‘a spectrum’ due to the range of symptoms that individuals with Autism may experience. While there is no known cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder at this time, current research shows the likelihood that both genetics and environmental factors play a role in its origin.
Children with Autism benefit greatly from therapies and interventions designed to work on behavior, learning, self-expression, and self-advocacy. Behavior programs are designed to address difficulties in social skill building, attention, anxiety, and challenging behaviors. Education and learning programs focus on learning, reasoning, and ‘whole life skills,’ including improvements in fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
What Therapies Entail for Children and Parents
After receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, your child will likely receive recommendations for several potential therapies from professionals in the field. One of the most widely-recognized treatments for children with Autism is applied behavior analysis or ABA therapy.
ABA therapy is designed to bring into focus how a child’s environment affects their behavior. Using a reward system that is meaningful to the child receiving the treatment, ABA works to replace undesirable behaviors with more positive responses. As a parent, you will be responsible for helping to promote and reinforce the skills your child learns with their ABA therapist in other social settings, including school, relatives’ homes, etc.
This responsibility is not to be taken lightly, as improvement relies on your putting the skills and reinforcements your child learns in ABA into practice outside of their therapy sessions. Continuing to apply what your child learns during ABA will not only assist your child in forming permanent positive behaviors, but it will also provide you the confidence and knowledge you need to guide them both at home and beyond.
The Importance of Self-Care
The responsibility of continuing to reinforce your child’s ABA therapy at home carries with it feelings of fear of inadequacy or error, both of which can cause anxiety and make you doubt your effectiveness. Self-care is an excellent way to mitigate these feelings and get yourself into a more healthy, centered headspace.
Some parents may feel guilty for considering taking some time for themselves when they have devoted so much time, love, and attention to their child and their care. But giving yourself a break can improve your ability to connect with and support your child! When your mind is centered, you will be better able to give your time and attention to your child, who needs your support most of all!
As the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you cannot overlook the importance of practicing self-care and taking time for yourself. If we never take time for ourselves to relax, unwind, and recharge, we run the risk of burning out, becoming short-tempered or having a full mental or emotional breakdown.
Self-care looks different for each of us, so the first step in figuring out proper self-care is to discover what makes you feel calm, centered, and happy. Since the parents of children with Autism lead busy lives, it’s also essential to find a self-care activity that you can easily fit into your daily schedule.
If you’re not sure where to begin with self-care, we have a few easy suggestions for you to get started on your self-care journey:
- Go for a run or light jog – the endorphins you’ll experience from moving your body will elevate your mood and make you feel less tense.
- Meditate for ten minutes – allowing your brain to relax and letting go of persistent anxious thoughts can help you feel more centered during your day.
- Enjoy a healthy snack – choosing to eat an apple over a bag of candy will not only benefit your body, but it will also keep your mind alert and your anxiety level stable.
- Set up a recurring coffee date with a close friend – there is nothing quite as unique as the power of human connection during stressful times, so enjoy the company of a loved one when you need to unwind.
- Start a journal – writing down your thoughts can help you feel less burdened by concerns or stress. It is also a great way to keep track of things that bring you joy!
While you may draw comfort in the art of meditation, or in baking delicious cookies to share with friends and family, or in going for long bike rides, these activities are sometimes not enough to ensure that you are mentally and emotionally at your best. For many of us, and especially for those parents of children with Autism, working with a counselor or therapist can be extremely beneficial.
But what do we mean when we say counseling therapy? Just as there is an incredible amount of information out there about Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are many resources and pages of information regarding different types of counseling therapy. If you have received counseling therapy before, you may feel more at home in your search for an appropriate therapist at this stage in your life. If you have never previously received counselin therapy, it can be daunting to figure out who to see and what sort of treatment is right for you.
At its core, counseling therapy is the process in which an individual sits down with a licensed professional for talk therapy. You will work through any emotional, behavioral, mental, physical, or social issues you may be experiencing that are hindering your ability to live your life as you would like to. Therapy is designed to assist individuals with not only talking through their problems but also with learning to think in new ways, respond to circumstances more effectively, and combat depression, anxiety, fear, and a myriad of other emotions.
We suggest counseling therapy as a method of self-care because we know how much of your time, attention, and emotion you give to your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They are at the center of your world and, as such, you carry with you their joys, fears, victories, and failures as if they were your own. By taking care of your emotional and mental health through seeing a counselor, you will be sure to be able to support your child and yourself through your child’s diagnosis and beyond.
The Benefits of Counseling Therapy
The benefits of counseling therapy for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are innumerable, but we have selected a few of the top benefits to dive into:
Counseling therapy helps you understand and accept the diagnosis
When your child receives a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be an unbelievably daunting thing to wrap your mind around. You will experience feelings of guilt, worry, fear, and grief as you navigate the first few weeks and months. When you are experiencing complicated emotions like grief, counseling therapy can be a lifeline for you, helping you with acceptance and moving forward post-diagnosis.
Counseling therapy shines a light on ways to better your parenting
Parenting a child with Autism can look quite different from parenting a neuro-typical child. You may find yourself overwhelmed and confused when considering the sensory issues you must keep track of, the educational accommodations to be made, and the therapeutic decisions that best suit your child’s specific needs. Finding a counselor who specializes in working with families of children with Autism is crucial to your ability to navigate the anxiety you may be feeling and prioritize things to reduce your worry.
It can help you and your partner become closer
The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder affects both fathers and mothers alike. Your partner will likely mirror the stress and anxiety you feel, and this mirroring can cause tension between parents. A counselor who understands the sort of pressure that parents of children with Autism are under can assist the couple with navigating such stress while remaining a connected team. Bear in mind that this can take time – counseling therapy is not an immediate fix, but will be beneficial to your relationship in the long run.
Counseling therapy is wonderful for stress management
To stay mentally and physically healthy, both for ourselves and for our children, we need to manage our stress correctly. Whether you see a counselor to assist with a brief rough patch or schedule sessions more consistently, a counselor will help you manage your everyday stressors along with the stress that comes from having a child with Autism. With a licensed professional there to provide you a listening ear and techniques to overcome your anxieties, you will be more able to tackle your days with confidence.
How to Find a Therapist
Finding a therapist that not only specializes in what you are seeking help with but also whom you connect with can seem like a daunting exercise. A simple internet search will return hundreds of options for therapists within fifty miles of where you live, many of whom focus on particular areas, like depression, eating disorders, or PTSD. So how should you begin your search for your perfect therapist?
We suggest starting by asking someone you trust if they can make a recommendation. Asking your child’s ABA therapist or another member of their professional care team is an excellent place to start, as they have likely networked with therapists who specialize in working with families of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Your child’s primary care physician may also be able to make a recommendation for you.
If you are unable to find a therapist through word of mouth, you can reach out to your health insurance company for assistance. Many insurance companies have online resources available for subscribers to search through local therapists and counselors that accept your coverage.
When all else fails, an internet search can help you narrow down therapists in your area who have worked with parents of children with Autism! Try and identify at least two to three potential therapists to reach out to, as some may be unable to take on new patients.
Parents of children with Autism often feel as though they should be strong enough to handle all the stressors that come their way. Still, without counseling therapy or another preferred self-care practice, they may find themselves overwhelmed and burned out. No matter what method of self-care you choose for yourself, integrating the practice into your daily life will work wonders for your mental and emotional well-being.
Take care of yourself and, when you have questions or need advice, know that Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center is here for you!