A day in the life of a mom whose children are on the spectrum can be extremely challenging and filled with chronic stress. They spend most of their time catering to their children’s needs like driving them to various appointments, helping them avoid sensory overload, helping them eat or play etc., as opposed to mothers whose children aren’t on the spectrum.
A study by the University of Wisconsin followed mothers of children and adults with Autism and found that the stress hormone cortisol and a biomarker known as CRP found in them are very similar in levels to that found in war soldiers. This chronic stress can make mothers vulnerable to issues like cardiovascular disease, weakened immune system, fatigue, insomnia etc. We are sure that Autism Dads too must be equally stressed out but the study by the University was done only on Autism Moms.
The study also found that mothers of those with autism may earn less money or have to work fewer hours than mothers whose children aren’t on the spectrum. Apart from that they have additional expenses of therapy, doctor appointments, and child care expenses that can burn a hole through the family savings. Some moms also fear losing their job because of their frequent breaks from work to tend to their child’s needs.
But it isn’t always sad and stressful; mothers are just as likely to have better days and good experiences as long as they don’t get let the bad days get to them and get overwhelmed. Here are a few tips to follow that can help cope with chronic stress:
1. Make small changes
Obviously, no day is the same when there is a child on the spectrum in the house and as a mother it adds more stress because they don’t know what to be prepared for each day, thus it is better to start by making small changes. Simple things like getting more rest, eating properly, exercising or even finding some time to write can make all the difference. If even these tasks seem Herculaneum, try making smaller changes such as slowing down your pace during the day, drinking more water, assigning chores etc.
2. Focus on the child’s current needs
It is easy for mothers to get anxious about their children’s development, but as a mother of a child on the spectrum there is also the added worry about how others are going to perceive their child, if they are going to have any friends or what will the future have in store for them. This may lead to excessive stress. Thus it is better to focus on their current needs instead of worrying about their future.
3. Don’t use work as a time out zone
Many mothers of children with Autism think going to work is a way to get a break from caring for their child and that is not true. At work, they have other things to worry about. Mothers should find time outside of work where they can focus on emotional healing, do things that they enjoy like going out for a coffee or a run or even just spend some time with their spouse.
4. Talk to others
Therapy isn’t just for children on the spectrum. Mothers of Autistic children can also seek therapy to help them cope with their stress. If therapy isn’t an option, try finding online forums that discuss Autism or try connecting with other mothers that are going through the same situation. If talking to others is not an option, try asking yourself these questions as a way to reduce stress:
Am I stressing myself out unnecessarily, instead are there certain moments in my day that I can slow down and relax.
What are things that I could change to make my day more wholesome?
Am I using unhealthy methods to cope with my stress and if so how can I change that.
Are there any chores I can delegate to others to relieve my stress?
5. Practice gratitude
Journal things which make you happy. Even small things like a hot cup of coffee, watching the rain, a movie which made you laugh, a hug from your significant other or your child. Or keep a gratitude jar on your kitchen counter and make it a practice for family members to write happy memories or things they are grateful for on slips of paper. Next year, pull the slips out of the jar and read about all of the things for which you are grateful!
An unorganized and messy space can also make simple tasks more difficult because a larger amount of time may need to be dedicated to finding needed items. Although organization can be difficult for many and time-consuming, it can also be a low-cost solution that significantly reduces stress. Putting aside time for some cleaning can help make a living space more autism-friendly and make daily routines easier.
Meditation is known to be pretty effective to make you realize how important it is to be aware of what we’re experiencing, be aware of the thoughts, feelings and emotions we have, and then creating a little space in between our experience and our reaction to it. There’s so much power in that pause. It helps you remember to focus on what we can control in a very out-of-control world. Even exercise can help you to destress when you burn those calories since it releases endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.
8. Rest, Hydrate and Self-Care
Take time out to rest, hydrate and just breathe. A basic piece of self-care advice but often the most helpful. It is very important to find tiny moments in your day to stop and just breathe. Find those few moments of quiet to collect your thoughts or just jump in the shower and put on a clean pair of yoga pants. It will make a world of difference in your attitude. It is a known fact that when you are presentable you feel better, you get more done, and you are more patient with your kids.
We would love to hear your views. Please leave your comments below.
If you have a child with Autism in your life, be it your own child, a relative, a friend's child, or a student, then Magic and Meltdowns is just the book waiting for you to pick it up.
It is the journey of the young aunt of an Autistic child Emma, who is also a part caretaker and Godmother to her. There are not merely words to read in this book, but emotions to feel, experiences to teach you, and a whole lot of research that will answer many of your questions about Autism.