Prior to takeoff of any passenger flight, flight attendants provide instruction that if the air pressure drops and oxygen masks fall, each person’s priority should be to put on their own mask before assisting anyone else, including their child. What remains unsaid is that if you are unable to breathe, you are not able to help anyone else.
With the constant, ongoing demands of everyday life, complicated by being a caregiver of someone with special needs, it can be easy to forget take care of yourself first. But taking care of yourself helps you provide the best care to those you love.
Taking time to care for yourself can be hard to do if you have just moved, are unfamiliar with a new community, or are far away from family. For military families, there can be an added layer of stress when a spouse is deployed or moves come frequently. For many, it can be hard to ask for help, but no one can do it all alone—we all have to breathe! When you are gasping for air, every breath becomes labored and impacts your ability to care for others.
Rely on the people in your life who support you: family, friends, a professional therapist, a trusted childcare, school personnel, or neighbors to provide help. For those who are new to a community, take some time to research what supports might be available. It is highly likely that you are not alone and that other families in your area share some of the same concerns, struggles, joys, and fears that are part of your family’s experience. Regardless of specific diagnoses, the needs of caregivers can be similar—everyone needs to know that someone else understands.
Set aside time for yourself, without wasting any energy feeling guilty about your planned breaks. Think about what you enjoy: reading, exercising, going out for coffee, or even catching up on your favorite television program. How can you make time for those things? Sometimes there are barriers that must be overcome, but guilt does not need to be one of them. If you view taking care of yourself as part of taking care of those you love, then it’s easier to take the time you need for yourself and your personal interests.
Any family affected by autism can find that their emotions run high and can change quickly, especially in times of stress. Military families face additional stressors, often with great success and resiliency. Even so, routine changes can become challenges to overcome, and families may not have much advance notice when changes are coming. Having a plan that utilizes pre-identified resources will make it easier to navigate challenges without forgetting to breathe. By taking care of yourself, you will be a better caregiver for the people you love.
For military families who are affected by autism, many supports and services are readily available:
- Programs like Military OneSource and the Exceptional Family Member Program are designed to meet the specific needs of military families.
- Many military communities offer inclusive resources and programming through libraries; gyms and fitness centers; pools; community centers; spouse networks; and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Activities or Marine Corps Community Services facilities.
- Affordable childcare through Department of Defense (DoD) Child Development Centers and school age care facilities may also be available, and DoD facilities offer inclusive care.
- Case management services offered through the Exceptional Family Member Program offer an opportunity for families to seek and receive personalized information and assistance about area resources from trained case workers who understand the system and are willing to help.
Want to know more? Visit www.militaryonesource.mil or call 1-800-342-9647 for information and to locate contact information for your local Exceptional Family Member Program office.
For non-military families, a parent support group like the one featured in this month’s Profile article can be a lifeline and a source for additional resources. These are often organized through a local Autism Society of America chapter or even a therapy provider. You can also check out this month’s How To article on “Taking Care of You” for more helpful tips.
The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is a mandatory enrollment program designed to assist military families in managing the dual demands of a military career and the special needs of a family member. The program assists with the identification and enrollment of a family member with special medical or educational needs, assignment coordination to determine the availability of services at the projected duty station, and support to help families identify and access programs and services. To learn more about the Camp Lejeune EFMP program, call 910-451-4394 or visit its Web site.