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The expression “keep calm and carry on” sounds easy enough. Yet anyone that’s a parent, in particular parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, knows it’s easier said than done! Right?
Parents of children with autism regularly score higher on stress tests than other groups. Indeed, stress in small amounts can be good for us. It can motivate or energize us. However, long periods of stress can cause health problems, including depression and anxiety, not to mention it can lead to marital issues and ineffective parenting.
Having a child on the autism spectrum does not automatically lead to familial chaos and strife. Many things can be done to ensure your family life is harmonious and you’re able to manage your stress.
Children on the autism spectrum have parents who seek effective treatment for them
Countless studies have indicated children who display repetitive behaviors or challenging ones (i.e., defiance or aggression) can place tremendous stress on parents and the entire family, for that matter. Needless to say, finding the proper treatment for your child with autism spectrum disorder can and often does alleviate the stress experienced by the entire family. This is especially true for children that are non-verbal or who quickly experience sensory overload., It’s crucial once you have an autism diagnosis to move toward therapy. Depending on whether your doctor and medical team advise speech, physical, or behavioral therapy or a combination, the sooner you will feel some of your stress alleviated.
Parents of children with autism have an emotional support network
Parents of children on the autism spectrum are usually more prone to depression and sheer exhaustion. Their supply of energy and time is depleted more often than other parents. The irony is their requirements for refueling these resources are greater too. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder must attend to their needs regularly. Without it, they won’t be able to participate in the marathon of parenting a child with special needs.
Peer support groups within the autism community
One of the greatest sources of support for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder is from other parents with similar needs. Peer support groups, whether they communicate through online forums, autism community newsletters, or face-to-face meetings, can alleviate the tremendous anxiety and stress parents feel around their situation. The less stressed parents are, the more likely they will remain calm in highly anxiety-producing cases.
Professional counseling from mental health practitioners
Whether you seek out couples counseling, individual, or group, having a safe place led by a trained professional can provide tremendous emotional support. A space where you can openly discuss your feelings around parenting a child with autism is an enormous stress reliever. Other benefits include feeling less isolated, anxious, and tired. Seeking professional help can also give you a sense of empowerment, hope, and control over your family life.
Parents of children with autism practice mindfulness
There’s a growing body of research indicating parents of children with special needs who practice mindfulness have lower levels of stress than those who don’t. From meditation to letting go of thoughts, focusing on physical sensations, and gentle stretching, these practices can decrease depression and stress levels. Additionally, parents who reported participating in a regular mindfulness practice indicated improved sleep quality, greater well-being, and a higher level of self-compassion. It’s important to remember a calmer and less stressed parent usually leads to a child with the same qualities and other positive behaviors.
Parents of children with autism have coping strategies
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder have been shown to have lower stress thanks in part to coping strategies. Whether it’s finding meaning in each experience, focusing on getting help, or concentrating on solving the problem at hand, all of these are considered ways of coping. The more options parents have, the more improved their quality of life. Alternate coping strategies include the following:
Adults that can reframe a situation cognitively can see a challenging situation as opposed to a challenging child. With this new perspective, they’re better equipped to find a solution rather than feeling overwhelmed.
Though it seems that optimism is an inherent trait, an increasing number of people who wouldn’t consider themselves naturally optimistic choose to be that way by cultivating it.
For example, a parent whose been given an autism diagnosis would redirect their thinking from “why is this happening to me?” to “how can I make the best of this?”
A pessimistic parent might think, “it’s all my fault,” if their child’s speech therapist decides to no longer work with them. Instead, someone who practices optimistic thinking might see this as an opportunity to meet a new and more suitable therapist.
3. Emotional Acceptance
Typically when feelings of sadness, shame, or fear arise in us, our first reaction is to reject them. We treat them as bad feelings. Things that we don’t want to feel. None of us want to go around feeling these types of emotional pain. Yet, research indicates that when we reject these emotions, we may make things worse for ourselves. Instead of pushing away these feelings, accepting your emotional experiences can improve your mental health and that of your family. This means you allow your emotions to be without trying to change or judge them.
Stress is manageable for parents of children with autism
Even though parents of kids with autism face a set of unique circumstances on a regular basis, they aren’t necessarily destined for a life of ongoing stress. Research has indicated if parents actively manage their stress and tap into the available help around them will experience a greater quality of life compared to those that cope in unhealthy ways or withdraw altogether. The better you’re able to handle the stress the more likely you’ll be to raise a less anxious child with an autism spectrum disorder.
At Circle Care, we can help. We have a number of different resources as well as knowledgeable staff that can help you navigate the stresses of raising a child with autism. If you’re interested in learning more, start by signing up for our email newsletter to receive more tips and tricks about autism parenting.