Parenting is hard. Parenting a child on the autism spectrum is even harder. Studies show that parents with children who have autism report clinical levels of stress due to ongoing therapies, doctor appointments, special education issues, and social needs of their children (Davis & Carter, 2008). High levels of parental stress are notably concerning as they are associated with damaging effects such as parent depression, marital difficulties, physical health problems, less effective parenting, and increased problematic child behaviors (Roberts, 2015). Yet despite this, parents struggle to make time for themselves. I too, am one of those parents. My son (now 9 ½) was diagnosed seven years ago, and I have been on this rollercoaster ride ever since. Fortunately, I’ve found several supports along the way that have helped to keep me grounded.
First, I discovered Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a daily practice that took me eight weeks to learn, and can be used anytime and anywhere (I don’t even need a membership)! I meditate (even for just a few minutes a day), practice some yoga (not the hot stuff, I’m not that tough) and remember to breathe, even during the biggest meltdowns. While there is no way for me to prevent stressful events from entering my life, I now have a simple, effective way to deal with them. More and more studies are showing evidence that MBSR helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression. I’m all in.
Second, I joined an online support group. This has been a lifesaver. I’ve met other parents who are in the same boat, facing the same daily struggles (potty training, feeding issues, sensory processing concerns, language challenges and social worries to name a few). We vent online, share ideas for managing daily problems and exchange resources (I found the best dentist this way!). Since moving to Fort Collins six months ago, I started a Facebook group named Fort Collins Autism Parents. Are you a parent of a child on the autism spectrum? Join us! The group is closed (meaning only able to be viewed by members), there is no fee, and you can check in as often (or not) as you like. The more voices we have, the more we can share.
Finally, (and this one took me the longest to learn) is my need for community. It is so nice not to have to explain my child, to sit with a group of parents who truly understand, and to take a break from my wonderful (yet often demanding) son. Once a month, we meet at a coffee shop and share our stories, laugh and dare I say it, relax. We don’t discuss gluten or vaccines (the two biggest group dissolving topics), but are open to just about anything else. Currently we meet downstairs at Mugs Coffee on College Ave. in Fort Collins the second Wednesday of each month from 6-8pm. We always welcome new parents, so if this seems like a nice escape for you, please come.
Do I still experience stress? Daily. But I am fortunate enough to say that these few tools have given me a soft place to fall.
Emily Daniels is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist in Fort Collins who specializes in supporting parents and siblings of children with chronic health problems and disabilities. She lives in Fort Collins with her son, Sam, her husband, Josh, three cats and her dog, Mr. Peanutbutter. You can contact her at Emily@danielscounseling.com or at 970-573-6459.