Self care is a term used to imply the deliberate and consistent exercise of attuning to one’s self in ways that provide nurturing, renewal, and a replenishment of energy needed to attend to the tasks and life demands that one may be experiencing. The term has long been popular in mental health fields in regard to promoting proper self care initiatives for mental health practitioners. The idea being that the drain and demand that can accompany being a mental health professional requires the professional to consistently participate in self care activities so that he or she can be operating at his or her best.
The same philosophy can be applied to parents of children with Autism. Most people are familiar with the popular study published in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that indicated that Mothers of children with Autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers and struggle with frequent fatigue, work interruptions, and spend significantly more time care giving than mothers of neurotypical children. No parent of a child with Autism reading this article needs to be educated on the demands, drain, and constant energy and focus it requires raising a child with Autism. This realty makes the proposition of self care for parents even more critical.
In my work with parents, I have found that most can appreciate the concept of self care but feel at a loss when it comes to actual implementation of self care strategies. Recent studies have shown that overwhelmingly parents state that lack of time is the greatest obstacle for their deficit in participating in any type of self care. Other often cited obstacles include: financial difficulties, lack of support from others, guilt, and attending to other responsibilities when not attending to their child with Autism.
So is self care a reality for parents with a child with Autism? The answer is yes, but for many the process may involve reframing their reality. To begin with, we need to reframe the value we put on self care, not be looked at as an optional luxury, instead it should be viewed as it truly is – an essential component for preventing stress, burnout, and providing much needed rejuvenation to attend to the many demands that typically accompany parenting a child with Autism. It is just as important as that Occupational Therapy (O.T.) appointment on Wednesday night.
Additional, we need to reframe what self care looks like on an individual basis. Self care strategies may involve doing something for 5 minutes out of a day. It will certainly look differently for each person and does not have to be thought of as something large like a weeklong trip to a beach. That is great if you can do it but that is not how self care exists for most people on a day to day, week to week basis. Some popular self care ideas include: respite care (even if it is a short time such as 30 minutes), joining a support group, investing in a hobby (reading, journaling, gardening, taking walks, sports), exercising, sleeping, and eating at a healthy level, and trying some of those O.T. and relaxation techniques you have be learning to use with your child on yourself.
Some additional reading for self care ideas can be found at www.autismconsortium.org, check out their May 2, 2014 blog post – Self-Care is not Selfish: Finding a Way to Take Care of yourself. Remember that self care strategies are whatever works for you. Reframe the way you look at the time you need and the time you have and make some effort to purposely plan and implement self care as if it were required. You will likely find the benefits are worth it!