The life of a parent or carer of a child on the Autism Spectrum is different to those who have neuro-typical children. Whilst others may have spent the school holidays buying whatever uniforms, lunch boxes and stationary were on sale and coming up with glorious day trip plans on a whim, you have been meticulously looking for clothing that will not cause a sensory reaction, washing that item a few times to soften it, ensuring lunch box clasps are loose enough for little fingers with weaker fine motor skills to open, providing routine and a schedule during the holidays and working hard to support your child as they learn a couple more self-care type skills. If you are navigating the NDIS, you may have been researching what you can access, or preparing for planning meetings to develop your plan. You have been mentally preparing for a new teacher, potentially a new school, or a new learning environment as well as separation anxiety and maybe even school refusal. Then the first day comes and your family collectively holds its breath as you do school drop off!
Are you with me? Does this sound familiar?
And for that moment, you exhale, until you realise that now it all begins again! Term One can be an interesting time, full of new routines, changes, expectations, meetings and settling. Navigating this with our children can be a stretching time when you are constantly thinking, always giving out, problem solving and balancing the needs of your child, your family and somewhere in there, trying to find five minutes for yourself. You may be new to this way of parenting or you may be a seasoned campaigner who knows what comes with Term One. But unless you carve out space for you, as a parent and individual, you can quickly get swept up in what can feel chaotic and overwhelming.
This Term One, it is time to prioritise yourself. We have heard so many inspirational quotes over the New Year’s period about loving one’s self, getting healthy, spending more time doing the things you love and refilling your love tank so that you have capacity to give out. When you have a child on the Autism Spectrum and can’t rely on your typical babysitting options, self-care can seem overwhelming as you must source respite and hope that they turn up!
So, how do we look after ourselves when we don’t always have options to do dinners with friends, coffees out, movies or spontaneous catch ups? We embrace the chaos and prioritise a few minutes a day to breathe, to relax our focus and to stop. Doesn’t have to be revolutionary, but those times of sanity can support you as you manage the hard things.
So, what can we do, as parents, to prioritise our own mental health? Here are some practical ideas:
- Look for the moments of gold in your day, no matter how small. Recognising all those small wins can help create a gratitude mindset, which has a dramatic impact on our mental health. You may even fill in a gratitude diary to help make it a real focus.
- Engage in something that makes your heart sing! It is being in nature? Find a quiet spot in your back yard or local area, have a coffee, and breathe. Is it exercise? Pull out a yoga mat or go for a short walk.
- Reflect on the expectations you have about yourself and let some go.
- What can you say ‘no’ to so that you can say ‘yes’ to self-care? This will bring such as sense of relief!
- Connect with others who walk a similar journey so that you can build quality friendships built on understanding and respect. Some of your most loyal, new friends you make in this season will be other parents of children on the Autism Spectrum.
As you love, lead, guide, teach and advocate for your child, don’t lose yourself. You are so valuable and don’t need to feel guilty for looking after yourself so that you can give out to others. You may just be surprised at how life may change when you invest in yourself!
Kate Johnson is the Founder and Director of Spectrum Journeys Inc, a not for profit autism service that equips and empowers education staff, support workers and families as they support children on the autism spectrum to flourish. To learn more about Kate and our team of experts, click here