Caregivers of children with autism devote so much time and much needed support to their loved ones, they can be susceptible to burnout as a result. This article offers some tips for arranging time for self-care and what to do once you’ve got it.
If you are a caregiver of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or know someone who is, you know it is not an easy task.
From the early hours of the morning to late in the evening (and often in the middle of the night), caregivers are the first responders to the daily needs of their child with special needs. They are responsible for assistance with toileting, dressing, feeding, therapy, transportation to appointments, and so much more.
This is usually on top of other household responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, keeping track of finances, and running errands. There are no weekends or holidays off for parents of children with autism, because in most cases, caregivers do not have someone who can fully take on their role. With no time to relax and recuperate, caregivers are prone to emotional and physical burn out.
Have you ever heard the saying, “you need to fill your own cup before you can pour for others”? This is absolutely the case with consistent caregivers. Sometimes there is guilt associated with taking a break as an autism caregiver, especially when ASD children form secure attachments, but if time is not taken to recharge, how can care continue?
Where can autism caregivers find help?
While all situations are not the same, sometimes there is help available in overlooked places. Below are some tips on where to begin searching for help to help make life just a little easier for parents of children with autism:
Respite care service
Ask around or search online to see if there are respite care service providers or other services for children with autism spectrum disorder you can access in your area. There might also be community groups and support groups for adults and caregivers you can utilize.
You may also wish to look into hiring someone to come in once a week, or however often is suitable for your family, to relieve you of your duties for the day. If you are worried about the quality of care they will provide your child, ask for reviews and testimonials, and ask if they’re willing to study caring for those with disabilities and disorders. You can then rest assured knowing you can choose to be nearby if you want to supervise.
Also make use of the time your child might be at school, or at an activity group, as this is a great opportunity for a bit of self focus.
Extended family and friends
Do you have extended family members, parents, siblings, or a significant other who can help out with caregiving duties for your child? Perhaps an aunt, uncle, or grandparent? Families are among the best resources when it comes to autism caregiver support.
Maybe you have a friend who has offered to help in the past. Don’t hesitate to accept their offer!
You can train people in your support network on the tasks they will need to cover, and once you have a group of people who are ready to help, you can create a rotating schedule so everyone can step in to support your child at least once a month. You’d be surprised by how much this could help reduce stress.
Immediate family support
If you have a partner and/or children who live at home with you, ask them all to pitch in and work together to share the caregiving responsibilities with you.
You can assign a different person to each day of the week, or you can assign specific tasks to specific people. For example, you can ask your son to cover caregiving duties every Saturday, or you can ask him to take care of feeding duties every weeknight. This way, the parents in the home don’t have the high pressure of taking on every task 24/7.
Put up a calendar on the fridge once you have agreed on a schedule so everyone in your immediate family has a reminder of what their responsibilities are, whether they are a child helping with small duties, or an adult taking on larger tasks.
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How to make the most of caregiving breaks
If you are a caregiver and have had a break to yourself recently, have you found yourself wondering, “what do I do now?” If so, you are not alone! Many caregivers spend most of their waking hours thinking about how to help their children, and they forget how to care for themselves. Below are some suggestions on things you can do and strategies you can use to look after yourself when you need a well-deserved break:
Schedule your appointments
Whether this is a medical appointment you’ve been putting off or a spa session, make sure to prioritize it! Medical appointments and treatment aren’t always fun, but they are important to make sure you are taken care of in life. As a parent of a child with autism, you should always focus on your own health, in addition to the health of your child.
Make plans with a friend
Go out and do something you like and enjoy! Find a new restaurant, go to a sporting event, or just get together for coffee and catch up with other people.
Do you have someone who is available to cover for you and look after your child for a couple of days at a time? Plan a mini trip— solo or grab some social time with a friend!
Get some rest
Sometimes, all you want is rest. Your life as an autism parent is so busy, you don’t always have to be social and fill limited free time with activities. Self care can include quiet times like taking a nap, watching a TV show you’ve been wanting to catch up on, reading a new book, cooking your favorite meal, or practicing medication and positive thinking.
If you are at home with your child and the individual who is covering your caring duties, be sure to set some boundaries; let them know you are taking some time off and that they should only contact you if there is an emergency.
Are you ready to start allowing yourself to take regular breaks from your caregiving duties? Take that time to do anything that gives you joy and comfort so you can support yourself and reduce stress while giving the best quality of support to your child with autism.