The Importance of Self-Care for the ASD Caregiver
It’s hard, folks. We all know the struggle and time consumption of caring for a child on the spectrum. It is a 24/7 lifestyle with what might seem like more downs than ups sometimes.
I know for me it is a constant struggle, and when I say constant, I mean every single second is a work in progress of trying to help my hyperlexic son with comprehensive difficulty and ADHD try to get through his day. A long day indeed. What I know is, if I do not care for myself, I cannot care for him.
It’s just like what you hear on an airplane about the oxygen masks that drop down in case of emergency. Place the mask on you first, then assist the children with his/her oxygen mask. There is a valid reason for that: you can’t help someone else if you yourself are deprived.
In caring for a special needs child, you must make sure to maintain your mental, physical, and spiritual health. I feel certain some of you are telling me there is no possible way to care for yourself the way you would like, and I get it. I was where you are once, and I want you to believe it is achievable. Most importantly, it’s critical!
It’s hard to put yourself first, and sometimes we have to learn to say no to others. “Learning to say no is really hard; many of us feel obligated to say yes when someone asks for our time or energy. However, if you’re already stressed or overworked, saying yes to loved ones or coworkers can lead to burnout, anxiety, and irritability. It may take a little practice, but once you learn how to politely say no, you’ll start to feel more empowered, and you’ll have more time for your self-care. “
I have put together some great ideas I have instilled in my journey of being a special needs parent that I feel you will find can be accommodated by your schedule, leading to an overall healthier and less stressful day while you care for your special needs child.
The structure of your family may be different from others—you may be a married couple, a single parent, a family member raising and AD kiddo; however, I feel all the ideas I present can accommodate any situation. The first step is the hardest step, but you must take that step in order to overcome the difficult situations that arise in your life in order to bring you peace and great caregiving.
First and foremost, sleep is critical. If you aren’t getting the right amount of sleep and are tired all day, everything from this point on will be an uphill battle. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. “Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.”  There are a few things you can do to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Experiment in this area and find what works for you. If you are a single parent you might want to consider finding an overnight respite or sitter in your area. I am a single parent, and I sometimes have an available friend to stay over to sit and sleep with him so I can get my proper rest. Othertimes, I may assess my local resources and see if a respite service is available. I also use an essential oil diffuser and have found that lavender is proven to aid in a restful night. The diffuser I use is Art Naturals 150mL Essential Oil Diffuser for Aromatherapy. I like it because it produces rotating colors that are soothing and diffuses the lavender scent gently.
One other item I use to help me sleep is Sharper Image Vibrating Eye Mask w/Aromatherapy. This eye mask not only has an aromatherapy insert but also a cooling insert. It vibrates too, making it easy to fall asleep. You can find this on Amazon and it’s very inexpensive. Great, great find.
In addition to these two recommendations, I would like to share a poll I created on Facebook. The question to my friends was “What do you do for self-care when life gets demanding?” I was amazed at how many people responded and the answers I received were fantastic. I have narrowed the list to my top 10. It includes affordable, easy de-stressors most everyone can do. It also includes mental, physical, and spiritual forms of relief. Take a look and see what you can add into your schedule!
- Sitting in a rocking chair listening to music with headphones
- Night out with friends
- Hot bath with essential oils and candles
Okay, I am going to share a vice of mine: Pinterest. Pinterest has everything you could possibly want to find, and then some. I do a lot of my research on there, and something I found, which I consider imperative, is called a “self-care kit”. And this isn’t just directed towards women, men can do it too. I see a lot of guys out getting mani-pedi’s and taking care of themselves. Remember, this is about caring for the caregiver, not the caregiver’s gender.
The self-care kit incorporates anything you may need to help you get through the rough terrain of your ASD caregiver trek. I have a dedicated self-care board on Pinterest and that is how I came up with so many great ideas for my kit. Pinterest is easy to set up, I highly recommend you get an account if you don’t already have one. So, my self-care kit includes my Life Journal, candles, books, a vibrating mask, the essential oil diffuser, and whatever I am crocheting at the moment.
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You can arrange yours any way you like; I went to Goodwill, picked out a beautiful basket, put the items in there (Except for the diffuser, that sits on my dresser) and placed it in my bedroom where I would access it most. Your self-care kit may sit in another room of your house. Put it wherever you feel it will benefit you the most.
I would like to reiterate the importance of caring for yourself. Call it me-time, self-care, down-time, whatever you want. But it is critical in several aspects of life. If you are just starting out in finding a self-care routine, move into it slowly. Pick one thing you feel you can manage, but OWN what you pick.
Try and schedule it at the same time according to your schedule. Be consistent when possible. Set a routine for yourself if it helps. It is also helpful to find a friend to make a self-care routine together. That way, you are in charge of holding each other accountable for your self-care.
This lifestyle is undeniably trying. But caring for yourself makes it easier and more enjoyable in the tough times when caring for ASD loved ones. Everyone needs help. If you know someone who could benefit from self-care, please share!
- “Self-Care: 12 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201812/self-care-12-ways-take-better-care-yourself.|
- “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency.
This article was featured in Issue 98 – Fresh ASD Guidance For A New Year