If you are a parent or carer of a child on the autism spectrum, you are likely to experience increased levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. This is likely to be an effect of being overloaded with various tasks such as driving the child to various appointments, or challenges such as negotiating with the school to accommodate the child’s educational needs.
Each day can be a struggle given the continuous need to help your child avoid sensory overload, or deal with unexpected tantrums, esp. in public. All of this can be exaggerated by the fact that you may not be getting enough sleep due to the child’s irregular sleep patterns.
There is a lack of information about autism spectrum conditions in society. This can often lead parents of children on the spectrum to face stigmas, experience self-blame, or suffer from anxiety due to the need for such children to conform to what society deems 'acceptable behaviour' by neurotypical children.
Stressors and their types
The stress you experience can vary and often can be a combination of the following stressors:
Despite the forces working against you, it is important to think about ways you can take care of yourself. In addition to helping your physical and mental health, this will likely enable you to provide better care for your child as well.
Looking after yourself
At a high level, looking after yourself will mean slowing down and intentionally looking for ways to take care of your whole self - physically, emotionally, and financially.
Given the four kinds of stressors discussed previously, it is only logical that your interventions are strategically designed to mitigate these as well.
Sleep, when possible: You may have to get used to the idea of power naps in the middle of the day to make up for your sleep debt. You can also get someone to step in once in a while, so you can sleep for a bit.
Exercise / Move: Like sleep, you may have to get used to exercising at odd times of the day but doing this 2-3 times a week for at least 30 minutes can be therapeutic. Walk, work in the garden, swim, or even dance in the kitchen.
Eat well: Do not compromise on the quality of your food. Eat fruits and vegetables, including fibre, and avoid too many snacks, fizzy drinks, alcohol, etc.
Find your friends: Reconnect with your friends; meet them, or get on video calls. Talk to them, laugh, go down memory lane, cry if you must. You will be glad you did.
Take up a hobby: Track down your knitting needles, dust off the painting brushes, or start quizzing online. If you don’t have a hobby, try new activities until you have one. Having a distraction will help clear your mind.
Connect with other similar parents: You may find it helpful to connect with other parents going through similar things. You can find your local independent parent and carer forum online or join online groups on Facebook, etc.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation can help you pay attention to your thoughts and the way you talk to yourself. Find ways of overcoming hypothetical worries that get in the way of staying focused on the present.
Seek professional help: Professional help can play a significant role in managing your stress level. Get into therapy or counselling if this is a possibility. If not, you can also reach out to charities and support groups for caregivers of children with autism.
Use your “village”: Do not disregard the support that your wider network can offer. Family members, close friends, disability organisations, places of worship, schools, and other community organisations may be important additions to your support system.
Government support: Your local government or council may be able to offer extra support and financial benefits. In the UK, this might be in the form of Disability Living Allowance and Carer’s Allowance. In India, this might be in the form of Income Tax concessions, Niramaya Health Insurance Scheme, etc.
Privately funded organisations: Charities and other privately funded organisations, may also offer financial assistance to families in need of treatments or purchase therapeutic equipment not covered by health insurance.
Speak to your employer: Speak to your employer about work and salary arrangements in the context of your caring responsibilities. Chances are, most employers will be willing to offer some flexibility around reduced responsibilities, flexible work hours, low or no-interest loans, etc.
Sometimes stress management can be as simple as paying attention to your current state and exploring healthier, more effective options for caring for your child whilst managing your wellbeing. What changes can you make today to help reduce the stress of caring for a child with autism?
PS: Have you watched our two webinars on autism? See links below.