Research has long shown that parents of children with disabilities have additional stressors that can cause both physical and psychological tolls (Neece, et. al., 2012; Murphy, et. al., 2006; Kronenberger and Thompson, 1992). Parents of children with autism specifically often show similar declines of physical and psychological health while caring for their children (Miodrag & Hodapp, 2010). Positive coping methods, including self-care, have been shown to reduce stress for parents of children with autism (Hastings et. al., 2005).
What is the answer for the parent of a child with autism? These tips and resources can help parents get started on making sure they are at their best.
Please Put on Your Own Mask Before Assisting Others
Although intended for airplane malfunctions, this is practical advice when it comes to self-care. Think about the things you are trying to help others accomplish. Make sure that you are doing those things for yourself as well. Self-care can be anything that adds to your physical and mental well-being, from getting enough sleep, eating appropriately, and making time for a bath or shower to getting exercise and setting aside time to enjoy a book or movie.
Fill Up Your Cup
Make sure you are doing things that you love to do. As Kyla H., a respondent to The Mighty’s call for what self-care looked like for parents of children with disabilities, said “You can’t pour from an empty cup, so keying in on what fills your cup is extremely important. It doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming to give you a big boost.” Do you love to make crafts, go running, attend a book club? Put them on your schedule as daily, weekly, or monthly appointments, and treat them like you would a doctor’s appointment for your child.
It Takes a Village
Give your family members an opportunity to take on some of the responsibilities of caregiving, and don’t be afraid to ask them for support when you need time for yourself. This could be while you run errands, go to an exercise class, or even take five minutes alone in the bathroom. Support groups are also a great way to expand your social network and meet other people who can share ideas or experience in providing care for both your child and yourself. You can also make use of respite care services in your city or state. Respite providers are trained in working with kids with varying abilities and needs. Often, local or state government will help subsidize or pay for this type of care.
Be Generous with Yourself
Self-care takes many forms. It may be just a few minutes in your day or it may be a weekend get-away. Don’t feel guilty about enjoying yourself or taking time away from your children. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your children is to take some time away to recharge. On the flip side, there may be days that will be so demanding that you forget to take care of yourself. In either case, be generous when reflecting on the things that went right with the day. Be present and consider how you are coping in the moment. Then think about how you might do something to enjoy yourself tomorrow.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, make sure you take the time you need. You will be a better, happier, and healthier parent for it.
- Self-care Inventory: Get started by identifying where your self-care could improve.
- The Special Needs Respite Care Guide: Your Care Options: Find people who can help provide care for your child.