Once we accept the diagnosis and learn to manage our own stress, raising a child with autism can be a uniquely rewarding experience.
Most parents will tell you that their children stole their hearts the very second they were born. It’s the nature of love and parenthood. We’re biologically programmed to take care of our offspring from the moment they take their first breath to the very instant we take our last one, and an autism diagnosis seldomly changes that. Still, being told that your child has autism could be a very difficult fact to accept, but by utilizing diverse coping strategies you can learn to navigate the sometimes-turbulent waters of autism for smoother sailing later on.
Dealing with the reality of the situation may take a bit of getting used to. Even if your child never personally experiences the negative emotions associated with their diagnosis, you and your family probably will. Some parents may even mourn the loss of the hopes and dreams they once held for their children – and that is completely OK. It is, however, incredibly important for parents to realize that their autistic children can also provide them with many unique joys.
Life with an autistic child is not all stress and hardships – just ask blogger and author, Carrie Cariello. When her son Jack, reveled his tendency to associate specific colors with each day of the week, she described the moment as follows: “On a seemingly ordinary day, Jack once again granted me the privilege to take a tiny peek inside his fascinating mind.“ And in many ways, privilege is exactly what raising a child with autism could be.
Celebrating every accomplishment, exercising patience, loving unconditionally, and putting in consistent effort, can make a world of difference for you and your child now and in the future. So, to be better able to cope with your newly found circumstances, check out the strategies outlined below.
Do Not Neglect Your Needs, Make Time for Personal Growth
One of the ways parents can make sure to effectively take care of their autistic children is to consistently take care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. Since life with autistic children can be stressful and difficult to manage, it’s important to know how to deal with it constructively. The last thing you want to do is take your frustration out on them; therefore, to take care of their needs you must first take care of your own.
Experts on Child-Autism-Parent-Café.com, amongst numerous other sources, stress the importance of personal time. “In order to avoid burnout…Parents who have children with autism have even more of a need to reward themselves.”
Embrace All of Your Emotions, Be a Slave to None of Them
When you first learn of the diagnosis, you may experience denial or a lot of sadness. Allowing yourself to feel these emotions can help you grow as a person and a parent because you can use them to cultivate acceptance and compassion. Ignoring your reality can lead to anger, which may come out in a variety of ways and be directed at those closest to you. In these instances it’s important to realize that many of the people that surround you are also dealing with the same emotions, therefore, you should try to support each other through this journey by channeling your feelings in a constructive way.
CNN’s Madison Park notes, “Several research studies have found that mothers of children with autism have higher levels of psychological and parenting-related distress than other moms of children with developmental delays.” To be better able to cope with these issues, parents may want to try counseling or psychotherapy as a means of working through their vast and complicated emotions.
Make Your Own Decisions, Adhere to Good Advice
Do NOT “shoot the messenger!” When you’re already having a hard time figuring out how to deal with your child’s needs, advice you didn’t ask for can seem like an unnecessary burden bestowed upon you by meddling know-it-alls. While in some cases this could be true, it’s important to embrace people that provide you with sound advice, practical feedback, and useful observations. Try to show appreciation for their input, especially if you know it’s coming from the right place. If, however, the advice is redundant, unnecessary, or simply irritating, find a respectful way to distance yourself from the person giving it.
Ask For Help, Try Helping Others
Everyone needs someone to talk to. You’d call your best friend if you got a new job, took a life-changing trip, or just got engaged – so why not reach out when you learn your child has autism? Letting someone know what you’re going through helps others understand why you may be feeling agitated, sad, or lost.
NBC’s Victoria Clayton notes: “As the number of cases of autism grows, many parents across the nation are grappling with the stress of the diagnosis and turning to other couples for support. Besides the anxiety and the high demands on parents’ time and energy, autism can also take a heavy toll on family finances and put a big strain on relationships.”
But sometimes, just sharing your feelings is not enough; you have to ask for help, honestly and directly. Whether it’s from a friend, a family member, a support group, a therapist, or an autism specialist – it’s up to you to seek the help you need.
Make Time For Yourself, And Other Family Members
It’s immeasurably important for you to make sure your lives don’t become all about autism. Dealing with an autistic child should be part of a parents day-to-day, not the sole focus of it, which is extremely important for managing related stress. You have to be able to take a little bit of time, even if it’s a few minutes, to get yourself back to neutral. Exercise, go dancing, join a book club, or catch up on sleep – the happier and rested you are, the better decisions you’ll make for your child and your family.
Much like raising any other child, caring for a child with autism is full of challenges, rewards, and entirely unique experiences. It’s about making choices, resolving conflicts, finding the best possible solutions for unexpected problems, and providing consistent love and unconditional respect for the amazing individual you’re raising – autism and all.