Take care, now…

By Liz

Whenever we fly the friendly skies, we are told: “In case of emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead bin. For those traveling with small children, be sure to fasten your own mask before assisting your child.”

For those of us with children on the autism spectrum this analogy means nothing.  We work very hard to take care of everyone around us before attempting to fasten our own oxygen masks.  Unfortunately, we sometimes experience such burnout and stress that we collapse before even reaching for our lifeline.  We know we have to find ways to take care of ourselves, but how do we do this with the everyday challenges we face?

Care and Feeding of the Caregiver

Learn to ask others (spouse, family members, teachers, etc.) for support. Be specific about what you need, firm in your method of asking, and appreciative for what others do to help. This can be a difficult step; after all somewhere we got the idea we had to be super-parents.  Why? Because we think other people expect it of us.

Lower your stress threshold.  Okay, this sounds odd; after all shouldn’t we be learning to deal with larger quantities of stress than the typical family? The answer is no. As Dr. Richard Carlson suggests in his book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…” “Our current level of stress will be exactly that of our tolerance to stress.  You’ll notice that the people who say, ‘I can handle lots of stress’ will always be under a great deal of it!”  If we raise our tolerance to stress, we will learn to accept even more responsibility and confusion until our stress level reaches our tolerance level.  Notice your stress early, long before it gets out of hand.

Change your standards for housekeeping (and other tasks that don’t really matter).  Did you ever notice how housework can sometimes send you over the edge?  You have dealt with inordinate amounts of stress, then suddenly your daughter forgets to throw out her apple core and you lose it!  If at all possible, hire someone to come in every so often to clean and try to relax about your own obsession with tidiness.  In various polls we’ve conducted at BBB Autism Support Network, we’ve asked how our members deal with stress; many people cite this attitude as a way they lessen unwanted frustration and negative feelings. It can be quite liberating!

Hand in hand with the above is make peace with imperfection.  Are you obsessed with losing 10lbs? Get over it!  If you are at a reasonably healthy weight and are taking care of yourself physically, don’t go crazy over a few pounds.

Find a healthy physical outlet. Discover a sport or exercise you really enjoy, and then do it regularly — either by yourself or with an “exercise buddy.” Take a Tae Bo class and punch out the stress; take a cycle class and beat stress to the finish line.  Out- walk, run, bounce, jog or play it.  You’ll feel better, look better and sleep better!

If you feel you would like to start eating healthier, check out the Food Guide and try to get a good variety of healthy foods.  If weight gain is a health risk, organizations such as Weight Watchers ® offer healthy, sensible alternatives to fad diets.  Sometimes, paying attention to such things can take the focus away from our stress for a period of time.

Take pleasure from music, movies, magazines, museums, and even favorite television programs. It’s OK to take time for yourself to “escape” every once in awhile. If you are experience warning signs of burnout, do NOT read anything about autism and do NOT watch Rain Man for the fiftieth time. If you feel you have to unsubscribe from the BBB Autism E-News for a period of time, no one will be hurt…we all need an autism vacation occasionally! J

Give yourself permission to say, “No.” I have a tendency to reach out to others to the point where I sometimes lose myself and my feelings.  I can spend hours trying to help someone through a rough time and then I’m stunned when they walk out of my life without even a ‘thank you’.  I need to learn to say ‘no’ more often; in other polls we’ve conducted, this appears to be a problem area for most of us!

Find someone you trust — relatives, friends, and baby sitters — to take care of your child so you can get away. You can try a respite worker (in home or out of your home).  For more information on respite, check out this link.

Scream therapy – it works!  When you are all alone, bury your face in the pillow and let off a good scream.  You can also have a good cry, sob your heart out.  After you are finished, dry your eyes, wash your face and go about your day.  A good way to prevent stress from boiling over is to dump some of it occasionally.  Otherwise, you just might find yourself bursting into tears at the checkout line when you see the last copy of the T.V. Guide is gone!

The Future

Find someone to talk to.  It can help if this person has already been through something similar, then you can compare notes.

When someone gives you unasked-for or inappropriate advice, thank him or her even if the idea sounds ridiculous.  They are only trying to help.  On the other hand, if you are the one offering the advice, it can be frustrating to have someone shoot down every single one of the ideas you give, but ask yourself if that person even asked for advice to begin with. 

If you are concerned about “the look” you might get out in the community when your child is experiencing certain behaviors, keep a stack of autism awareness cards handy.  These are quick business card sized descriptives of autism, with the phone number to your local autism society chapter.  This can save you from long explanations and can diffuse potentially stressful situations.  (On a personal note, I always take the time to explain to children if they ask about my son’s behaviors.  I think it’s a good way to foster awareness at a young age.)

Retain your sense of humour.  Sometimes the most embarrassing or difficult moments turn into hilarious anecdotes down the road.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Sometimes you have to slow down before you can gain momentum. You’re not being selfish if you find ways to take care of yourself. You’re just getting that extra whiff of oxygen so you can move ahead with renewed energy and commitment. When your chest feels tight, stop and take several huge breaths.  You will be surprised at how good this can help you feel!


Above all, if you start to feel overwhelmed, depressed or overly anxious, don’t be afraid to seek some professional help!


Now, if only I could learn to do as I say! J


(c) BBB Autism – June 2002


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