“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first” means you have to be in better shape to help others. The same goes for you when you have a child with special needs. After diagnosis, taking care of your child and making sure that all of their needs are satisfied might require lots of your time and energy. This process can leave you feeling physically and mentally tired.
Tip #1: Try to understand your feelings without judgment. Caregivers of special needs people may suffer from stress , anxiety, depression, or other problems. Remember to take care of yourself. Occasional feelings of anger, loneliness, and sadness are normal. Take some time for these feelings, recognize them. Try to practice mindfulness , to stay in the moment, and to feel. Make effort to understand your emotions instead of fighting or escaping them. Also, remember that you should not feel guilty for needing a little time to yourself.
Tip #2: Have a big calendar on the wall and try to put every plan down on it, so your child will know every step of every day, especially if you will be spending a little time apart. This is beneficial for them as well since they will learn to schedule and follow a routine later in their life.
Tip #3: Schedule a special day or night out every now and then. Maybe you will have a special dinner with your partner at a restaurant that you always wanted to go to, or catch a movie with your friends. The options are endless! Spending quality time with your loved ones plays an important role in reducing stress .
Tip #4: Regular check-ups should not be missed. Maybe you don’t mind missing a couple of your own medical appointments. But you should also take care of your own physical and physiological health . Think of it like this: any medical issue you might have can disrupt your routines that your child is used to and this can cause discomfort.
Tip #5: Have time for yourself at home - just remember to write it on the calendar! Me-time at home can also be quite calming. Try to meditate, focus on your breathing. These exercises can be used anytime to come back to a state of calm, especially when you feel frustrated or stressed. Also, try to discover new talents and hobbies! You can paint, knit or exercise. This will keep your mind active while having fun!
Tip #6: Join a parent group, see similar families. Meeting with a family that also has a child with autism may be beneficial for you. You can share your experiences, take advice and schedule a joint meeting with kids. You can do it virtually over the internet or physically by meeting in person. Talking with your doctor can be the first step to find these families. If you prefer doing it online, you can find many support groups just by googling “autism support”. Either way, you will feel and see that you are not alone.
Tip #7: Inform your family and friends. People may know the basics of autism but giving detailed information from your experience and point of view can be helpful. You can talk about what it is like to raise a child with autism, share your experiences, or just educate them about autism. The more they learn, the more they will understand you and help mentally and physically if you feel stuck. Also having a support from your family will make you feel better too.
Tip #8: Go offline - stop searching all the time. You may want to keep yourself updated on any new research. But constantly searching may become overwhelming. You may need to take a step back and turn off your phone. To tackle this, you can add “research” to your calendar so you will do it once a week and won’t feel you fell behind from the news while not constantly focusing on it.
Tip #9: Ask for support. If you feel overwhelmed or tired -like every other parent- ask for help from family and friends . This support can be for your free time, or just to get some rest. Taking care of a special needs child comes with its challenges especially for those who are doing it for the first time. If you think a list or a simple guide might help them figure this out then just make one for them. This guide might be useful in case of emergencies as well. In time, both your child and the people you asked for help will get used to one another and will start having a better time together.
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Tip #10: See the good. Focusing just on improvement areas is not beneficial for either you or your child. It is known that there are many talented and famous people who also have autism; like, the author of “Alice in Wonderland” Lewis Caroll, or the artist Andy Warhol. Recognize your child’s talents, and focus on the good. This means focusing on small achievements. See and acknowledge the good things your child has achieved. Prefer small goals rather than big and long-shot goals and this will enable opportunities for little-wins. Your child can show enough improvement to identify good feelings on an average day.
Tip #11: Help your child with meeting their peers. Interaction and relationships are important for all social beings. You can arrange a meeting with other parents for your child, take them to their favorite place and maybe they will meet someone new there. Meeting someone with similar/same interests makes it easier to get along. Little tweaks on daily life routines may enable your child with new interactions as well. For example, if they are going to school by car, maybe you can offer them to take the bus and meet with other children.
Tip #12: Be patient and embrace the fact that sometimes the world is a difficult place for your child to be in. Although it is challenging for both of you, it is important that you remind yourself how individuals with autism or other developmental disorders do not perceive life the same way as neurotypical individuals do. It’s not easy for them to be in a world where they can’t always make sense of and, from time to time, too much to handle. Therefore, the frustration works both ways. Explore suitable options of how to be more consistent together with your child to avoid this frustration. They will show you the ways in which they can learn more easily. At times of frustration, avoid comparison. Accept that every family and child is different. Even your child’s progress might be different sometimes.
Tip #13: Help improve sibling relationships if you have another child who is neurotypical. It is normal that you spend most of your time and energy on your child with autism but this might cause your other child to feel left out from time to time. Spend some one-on-one time with your other child, do what they like to do, and acknowledge their emotions. Although it is hard to manage, try to give equal time and attention to your other child’s needs and progress. Children usually grow negative feelings towards their siblings if they feel like they are not getting as much attention as their siblings . When you are playing with one child, try to come up with ways to include the other. Also, when there is an issue in the family, ask your children for their opinion. That way they will know that you value their thoughts as a family member. Even in your hard times, if you face a problem, include them to solve the problem. They will feel like a member of your family.
Tip #14: Don’t compare; either yourself or your child. Every kid is different, all have various problems. Comparing your child with cousins or friend’s kids is not helpful and won’t create positive feelings. Remind yourself that every child has strengths and weaknesses just like you and just like everybody else. Your child also has strengths and weaknesses and what’s important is that you should be there to recognize the strengths and encourage them to improve the weaknesses.