Parenting brings many joys. But it also can bring a lot of stress, which can be compounded if you are a parent of a child with autism or developmental disabilities.
Performing daily tasks can be a daily hurdle that feeling overwhelming at times. You worry that your child will not be accepted by peers or will be mistreated. Doctor and therapy appointments can become exhausting. Problematic behaviors may wear your patience thin. Grief concerning the diagnoses might strike like a bolt of lightning at the most inopportune times.
Then there are the nagging questions regarding the future. Will your child function independently? If not, how will he or she be cared for?
It’s important to build your resiliency to face the challenges of parenting a child with autism or a developmental disability.
Here are some tips on managing stress:
- Savor the good moments. Sometimes we can be so caught up in fears about what might or might not happen that the good moments zoom by and we miss them. Take time to fully immerse yourself in the enjoyable moments and fully appreciate them. One way to develop more awareness of the enjoyable things that happen is to take time at the end of the day to recall positive moments.
- Cultivate a positive and hopeful mindset. The more we focus on stressful situations, the worse our stress becomes. Learning to pay attention to the positive aspects of the day makes it easier to build a hopeful attitude. Individuals who learn to pay more attention to the things that go well have a greater ability to withstand the difficult times. Thankful thoughts record in the brain as optimism, which calms the brain and lowers a stress hormone. Seek to surround yourself with positive people who can provide encouragement. When a parent has a hopeful and positive attitude, children also learn to be more positive.
- Develop a sense of humor. Our level of stress decreases when we can find humor even during stressful times. It is not unusual when working with families in therapy sessions that emotions intensify. But when a family member can find humor, the tensions subside.
- Plan self-care. It may be challenging to build time in our busy schedules for self-care. Finding time for self-care is not selfish but essential. Taking time to do something you enjoy, or that calms or rejuvenates you, will give you more patience and a refreshed perspective. An example is a mother who goes to the mall and simply browses while her sister takes care of her children. The mother reports that when she returns, she feels more relaxed.
- Be gentle with yourself. Know that you cannot be a perfect parent and will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, first be kind to yourself and use this as an opportunity to model to your children what to do when a mistake is made.
- Build supports. It is not unusual for parents to report that taking their children out in the community has so many challenges that they sometimes avoid it. They can then become isolated. Make efforts to build connections. Ask for help when you need help.
- Organize but have a plan B. Make plans but have a plan B if the first plan is not working. For example, if you have the day structured, but things start to unravel, be flexible. An example of this is a family who visited an amusement park, but had an alternative plan, in case the park was too overwhelming for their child.
- Stop and breathe. When stress overwhelms and chaos is in full swing, take time to stop and breathe. Focus only on breathing. This slows adrenaline and helps to bring a sense of calm to face the situation.
Lori J. Weaver is an outpatient therapist at the WellSpan Philhaven Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.