The necessity of self-care for parents with children on the Autism Spectrum.

The necessity of self-care for parents with children on the Autism Spectrum.

Yesterday my son had a meltdown. The first in a while, that truly knocked us both for six.

In the early days they were more frequent. With early interventions and finding out strategies to manage our lives, now at the age of 6 ½ they are less frequent. Thank goodness.

Yesterday it got to the end of the day and he started to grunt. His little grunt of frustration sometimes drives the rest of the house a little crazy, because once he starts often there is no stopping it.

I can best describe it like the beginning of a volcano, it is a warning sign, like when earthquakes or gas emissions begin. That is the grunting stage.

Then comes the kicking or moving his body in a ridged way. This is like the initial steam and ash venting out of the volcano stage. 

I was then sitting close by waiting inevitably for the lava eruption. The very loud screaming, thrashing about and yesterday hitting himself. This stage is the hardest, it hurts him, and it hurts my heart as a parent to watch it. I must let it play out.

Not if he is really harming himself, then I step in as most parents of children with autism must.

You can’t plug a volcano up once it has erupted. You must wait for it to do its thing and stop when it is ready. A volcano stops erupting because all the trapped volatile gasses have degassed and there is no longer enough pressure to drive the magma out.

I can see in my son the amount of energy trapped in his body that he has not been able to release. This is sometimes why a meltdown for him is the only way he knows to get it out. For him it is usually caused by over-stimulation or no time to process a transition. Once it is over, he is worn out. He is tired, but he is also clearly more at ease and able to move on with his day.

When it was over, I gave him dinner, put him to bed with his usual routine of a book and a massage and put his brother to bed.

It left me shattered, it took all my reserve that I had. I had been building that reserve up every day through self-care. That night I didn’t have energy to talk it out with my husband, all I could do was eat mini snickers and sit on the couch looking at the TV.

I handled the meltdown with patience and compassion. I didn’t lose my cool or try to get him to snap out of it. That is impossible for him to just snap out of it, this would only make it worse and last for longer.

I want to make it clear that I could only do this because I have been using a lot of energy to look after myself lately. Walking in the mornings early before anyone is awake, eating better, making sure I have time to spend alone without the children. This could be a date with my husband or spending time with a friend. I regularly read and practice meditation (a BIG one) and I feel these self-care practices are the only reasons that I could handle yesterdays meltdown.

I know how hard it once was for me to recover from one of his meltdowns, and how I couldn’t always handle it with patience. I couldn’t come back straight away. It made me unable to socialise, I went into what felt like survival mode. I still do sometimes, but not every time. My anxiety would be shocking the next day, this in turn makes managing children harder.

Did you know the statistics are higher for parents with children on the spectrum or special needs to have depression or anxiety, to get divorced, to end up with drinking problems etc.

So, to all the parents out there with children on the spectrum please I beg of you to get support around finding time for you. Find out what works for you and what fills your cup up.

Make it a priority so that we can help our children the best we can. This is not selfish, this is imperative. Meltdowns and management of a child with ASD is often taxing and they need you to be functioning well.

I hope this year you can sit down with someone close to you and work out a care plan of how you can look after yourself. This way after a meltdown with your child you can bounce back a little quicker and still be there for the family.

There is support out there and it is important we take it so that we ourselves don’t end up burnout.

Big love to all you parents out there. Keep your chin up.

If reading this has made you think that you may need help around this please contact your local family Doctor, Counsellor, Therapist or support line to work out a care plan for you and your family. Below is a list of some services for Australian parents.

 

Sara Stace

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