How Can Parents of Autistic Children Reduce Their Stress?
Raising autistic children can be challenging, with parents experiencing higher than usual stress levels. This, in turn, impacts mental and physical health, making it crucial to understand and address common stressors in parents of autistic children.
How Can Parents of Autistic Children Reduce Their Stress?
Parenting can be quite a challenging journey, and when it comes to raising autistic children, the stress levels can be even higher. Research has consistently shown that parents of autistic children tend to experience more stress compared to other groups of parents.
While a little stress can be beneficial and keep us motivated, prolonged and excessive stress can have negative effects on our health. In fact, the relationship between parenting and autism often results in higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress-related health issues.
Understanding and addressing parental stress is crucial for the well-being of both parents and their autistic children. Let’s try to understand the most common stressors in parents, the effect stress has on both parents and children, as well as ways to reduce stress.
Common reasons for stress in parents
Parenting an autistic child increases stress levels beyond those of parents of allistic children. The need for constant vigilance, financial burdens associated with therapy costs, sleep deprivation, and managing challenging behaviors can all contribute to increased parental stress levels.
The impact of parental stress extends beyond individual well-being. It can also affect marital relationships, parenting effectiveness, and even the decision to continue with treatment. Let’s take a closer look at these different stressors and the effect they have on parents.
Taking care of an autistic child can increase the risk of psychological distress like depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues in a caregiver. It’s important for parents to prioritize their own mental well-being and learn healthy coping strategies to manage stress effectively.
Chronic stress can have physical effects on parents of autistic children, making them more vulnerable to cardiovascular, immune system, and gastrointestinal issues. Research has shown that caregivers in these situations have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and biomarkers like CRP, which are linked to various physical illnesses. Fatigue and sleep difficulties may also be common, especially if the child struggles with sleep as well.
Autism spectrum disorder is often misunderstood by the general public, leading to blame or misunderstanding of a child’s behaviors. This can result in a stigma that isolates parents socially, causing them to withdraw from public gatherings and even strain relationships with friends and family. Marital stress may also be more prevalent in families with an autistic child.
Research suggests that parents of autistic children face financial challenges, such as lower income or reduced work hours, compared to other parents. Additional expenses related to therapy, medical care, and childcare can add a significant financial burden. Some parents may even risk job instability due to frequent absences needed to care for their child.
One of the first steps towards reducing your stress is acceptance. Accepting that your child has autism and that it is not a disease to be “cured” or “fixed” can play a massive role in managing your expectations of both yourself and your child. Autism is part of who your child is, and every intervention moving forward should be based on that key understanding. Acceptance takes time, years for some, but is an integral part of the success of your child, and the overall family unit.
It takes a village
Solid support systems are crucial for parents of autistic children. Don’t hesitate to lean on family members and close friends for help. Give them specific tasks to assist you. You don’t have to educate them about autism spectrum disorder yourself — direct them to resources where they can learn more.
Additionally, disability organizations, places of worship, schools, and community organizations can be valuable additions to your support system. Meeting other parents who understand what you’re going through can be a great support. They “get” the challenges and joys of raising an autistic child, and you can learn from each other’s experiences.
Focus on reality and not “what ifs”
It’s natural to wonder what life would be like without autism, but dwelling on “what if” scenarios adds unnecessary stress. Focus on the present and embrace your child’s unique journey. Face uncertainties with a positive mindset.
Ask yourself what your responsibilities are to your child and yourself in the present moment. By focusing on the reality-based needs of your child and what you can actually control, you can alleviate unnecessary stress.
Find space for yourself
When you feel overwhelmed by the various sources of stress as a parent of an autistic child, it can be helpful to start with small changes. Focus on getting enough sleep, incorporating regular exercise into your routine, and carving out some time for yourself.
Even smaller changes — like slowing down your daily routine or drinking more water — can make a difference.
For some, work can provide a break from caregiving for parents of autistic children, but it shouldn’t be the only reprieve. You need to have time and space outside of work where you can prioritize your emotional and physical well-being, pursue your interests, and nurture other relationships.
Don’t let the fear of how your child will adjust to a new caregiver hold you back. Allowing your child to interact with other adults can be beneficial for both of you. Schedule respite care by hiring a babysitter, asking for help from family or friends, or exploring options like the Medicaid autism waiver. Use this time to rest, run errands, or do something that helps you relax.
Finding some time for yourself is essential. It can be as short as 15 or 20 minutes. Whether it’s quiet time while your child plays independently or trading caregiving responsibilities with your partner, prioritize moments of self-care. Taking care of yourself can have a positive impact on both your own well-being and your child’s functioning.
Emotional regulation is key
As parents, we’re human and experience a range of emotions. Find healthy outlets to regulate your emotions, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, or engaging in activities you enjoy. These practices can help you manage stress and maintain emotional well-being.
Start small and mark the wins
Recognize and celebrate both major and minor victories for you and your child. Acknowledging the positive aspects of your life can uplift your spirits and reduce stress. Share your wins with others and savor the progress you and your child make.
Find professional help
Don’t underestimate the value of professional help in managing your stress levels. If regular therapy or counseling is not feasible, there are still options available. Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to ensure your physical health is in check.
Disability or autism organizations, as well as your local school or hospital, can help connect you with support groups for caregivers of children with autism. These groups not only provide a listening ear but also offer valuable resources and information to reduce parenting stress.
Let Lighthouse Autism Center support you and your autistic child
Among the many autism resources available at the Lighthouse Autism Center are a host of autism parenting secrets to help our parents raise their autistic children with empathy and effective care. Combined with our innovative Lighthouse Fusion ABA Therapy, parents are able to live happier and less stressful lives at home with their autistic children.
Handling inappropriate behavior from autistic children can be challenging, especially in public settings. With the right strategies and understanding, it’s possible to effectively manage and address these behaviors in a way that supports the child’s needs and promotes their well-being. How To Handle Socially Inappropriate Behavior in Public Handling inappropriate behavior from autistic children can […]
Autism stereotypes are common and can have significant social consequences for autistic children. Misconceptions hinder the acceptance and inclusion of autistic children. Challenging these stereotypes is vital for creating a more understanding and supportive society. Overcoming Stereotypes We are all prone to prejudices based on stereotypes, especially when it comes to autism. Whenever someone mentions […]
Neurodiversity appreciates variations in how our brains work, celebrating the unique experiences of individuals beyond supposed “neurotypical” norms. It rejects the idea of “fixing” conditions like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, understanding them as different ways of being. Neurodiversity We’ve heard the term often enough, but what is neurodiversity exactly? A simple definition states that neurodiversity […]