The difference, however, was that I had many opportunities to take care of myself and get re-energized before the next morning. I could take a leisure drive home from school and think about what I could do differently to help my student. I could soak in a hot bath without being disturbed. I could take a walk or even go for a run to calm my body and remove the stress. Or, as I often chose to do on the really rough days, I could go home and take a long nap and wake up feeling refreshed.
Unfortunately when we become parents, there aren’t a lot of opportunities in our busy days to take care of ourselves. For those parents who have a child with autism, their days may be even busier as they have to drive their child to preschool, ABA sessions, speech therapy, etc. However, there are some things you can do to renew or restore yourself even during the rough times:
· Change your self-talk. What you tell yourself during difficult moments can increase or decrease your stress level. For example, thinking “This too shall pass,” will decrease the stress your body feels, whereas, thinking “Oh no, here we go again, another behavior problem!” will increase your stress level. I know parents who try to stay positive and recall the other difficult moments their child has had in the past, and note how they are no longer an issue. This helps them cope with any new difficulties.
· Refill Your Cup. When we feel drained, life can feel overwhelming. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to re-fill your cup. Finding moments (even little ones) that re-energize you, can make a big difference. For example, taking the kids for a wagon ride through the park, allows you to relax and spend time in nature. Also, you can listen to inspirational people, books, or music on your IPod while your child is napping. I do this while doing the laundry and dishes, and it makes doing chores much more enjoyable.
In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, Psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, share how studying professional athletes for over 25 years taught them managing energy and NOT time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. They teach the importance of balancing energy expenditure (work load) with planned intermittent energy renewal (small breaks). In other words, they teach the importance of planning small breaks throughout your everyday routine to allow your body to renew itself. This gives the body the energy it needs to perform.
· Prevention is Powerful: If you have participated in any of my programs, you may have heard me say that the moment your child’s behavior escalates and your child is out of control, there’s nothing (or very little) that can be done. We should stay calm, so we don’t escalate the situation even further, and try to keep the child (and others) safe.
However, there are a lot of supports we can put in place to prevent the behavior from occurring again. Once your child is calm, think about what happened PRIOR to the behavior incident. Was your child trying to GET SOMETHING? Or, was your child trying to GET OUT OF DOING SOMETHING (Escape)? Or was the behavior part of the autism: difficulty transitioning, sensory need, etc.?
Ask yourself: what skill is missing that prevents my child from expressing his needs/wants more appropriately? If you taught that skill, often your child’s negative behavior will decrease. For example, if your child tantrums when there is a transition, you can use a visual cue (pajamas for bedtime) or a visual schedule to let them know what is going to happen next. Often the visual cues help your child to anticipate there is going to be a change, and they are less likely to feel anxious or tantrum.
In her book, More Than Words- A Parent’s Guide to Building Interaction and Language Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social Communication Difficulties, Fern Sussman addresses how parents can support their child’s communication, as well as, has wonderful examples of how parents can use visual helpers to support their child’s ability to comprehend language (i.e., visual schedules, first/then, choices, play sequence, task sequence, etc.)