One of the biggest challenges that parents of children on the autism spectrum must cope with is their own stress. How you manage your stress can be a huge factor in both the quality of your own life and in the life of your child. If you are overrun with stress, you will have a difficult time showing patience and understanding for your child who is struggling, and a cycle will develop as your stress level causes you to handle situations poorly, upsetting your child further and leading to meltdowns and other struggles, which in turn create even more stress.
Sources of Stress
The stress in this situation doesn’t just come from dealing with behavioral outbursts. Other sources of stress in your life may include:
- Stress in the workplace, resulting from missed days and frequent phone calls as you try to manage school problems and issues with caregivers
- Financial stress, thanks to piling up medical bills and copays for therapy and other services, some of which may not even be covered by insurance
- Marital stress, as you and your spouse struggle to implement routines and try to handle your differing opinions on how and when to discipline your child with autism
If your child has siblings, you probably find yourself worrying about how they are coping with their sibling’s difficulties. You may have the challenge of family members and friends who simply don’t understand what you are going through provide “advice” that is less than helpful. Finally, you may be concerned about your own health, since chronic stress tends to have a negative effect on your sleeping habits and other functions.
Resources for Help
Although you may feel isolated and alone, you are not. A number of resources are available to help you cope, but they can sometimes be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look.
Family therapy — This is often the first place to begin. Your child probably has a full team of therapists and other medical providers, but what about you? Do you have your own therapist or counselor to help you get through this? If not, find one in your area immediately. Your child’s therapist is a great resource for recommendations of family therapists who are familiar with the issues that surround a child with autism.
Respite care — You need a break. Understanding family and friends may be willing to take your child for an afternoon or overnight visit so that you can have some quiet time to regroup and do the things you like to do, whether that’s going to see a movie, reading a book, or even just lying on the couch and resting quietly. Professional respite care is also available. Again, check with your child’s therapist for referrals or contact your state’s Department of Developmental Disabilities for a list of respite care providers.
Financial help — The financial needs of a child with autism can be staggering. You may qualify for assistance or grants. Start by contacting the organizations that provide your child’s services to see about scholarship funds or other assistance programs. Find out if your child qualifies for additional medical assistance through your state’s Medicaid program. Contact your state’s Department of Developmental Disabilities to find out if your child qualifies for services through this program.
School programs — Find out if your district has an autism coordinator and get to know this person. He or she may be able to provide you with a great deal of information on programs that are available through the district and may also know about other local programs that can help provide support for your family.
Support groups — Sometimes it can help to know that you are not going through this alone and get practical advice from people who have actually been in your situation. Contact your local chapter of an organization such as Autism Speaks for a listing of support groups in your area. Your child’s team members may also have information about local groups — and may even sponsor groups themselves.
Finding ways to support your own mental health and reduce your stress levels should be considered a key part of your child’s treatment plan and a top priority. You will have a much easier time taking care of your child when your own needs have been met. Above all, never be afraid to ask for help.