Do you remember the days when you could spend an hour reading a book, gardening, or just walking around Target undisturbed? Have those days been lost since your child was identified with Autism? Well, this does not have to be the case.
Self-care is hugely important for all parents, especially those parenting children with unique needs. In order to serve your family well, it is crucial that special needs parents take time to refocus and recharge. Research confirms that with regularly scheduled rest, special needs parents are more resilient and experience less symptoms of anxiety and depression (childmind.org).
So how, you may ask, can a parent realistically plan for said rest and recharging? Consider the caregiving services of a sitter, family member, or trusted friend. Now I know what you are thinking… ”No one will be able to tolerate my child’s behaviors”, “No one will understand what my child wants or needs”, “It’s just easier to stay home with my child, because the idea of preparing for a sitter sounds exhausting!” Do not fear parents. There are practical ways to prepare yourself and your child for an alternate caregiver.
1. Consider creating a family care manual. A few years ago, I found myself sick and needing to be away from my young children for 3-4 weeks receiving care. This was at the time when my three-year-old had just been diagnosed with Autism. As you can imagine, I found the task of preparing to leave my children to be quite daunting. However, I decided that if I could not be with my children, I would leave a manual that would help my friends and family to give them the best care. I included detailed tips about preferred meals, bedtime and bath routines, preferred places to visit, and phone numbers for doctors, dentists, etc. I was told that this family care manual was a lifesaver and helped my caregivers to feel more confident and at ease.
2. Give your children time and resources. If possible, plan your alone time or date night in advance and mark it on a calendar. Talk to your child about what you will be doing and what they may be doing while you are gone. Show your child pictures of their upcoming caregiver or invite that person over for a short visit as a trial with you present. You may also ask your child’s therapist to create a social story that you could review with your child in preparation. All of these ideas will help to reduce your child’s anxiety and help to set them up for success.
Remember special needs parents, you have special needs, too! Therefore, it is valuable and necessary to spend time caring for yourself so that you can better meet the needs of your uniquely wonderful child.
Crystal Sanford, M.Ed., M.A. CCC-SLP (www.sdautismhelp.com) has practiced in the field of speech-language pathology since 1998. As a licensed clinician, special education advocate, and fellow Autism parent, Crystal's passion is supporting moms and families of Autism. In her free time, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband and two children in San Diego, CA.