By being a consistent and responsive parent for your child with autism, you are creating the steady presence that your child needs, but your own emotional well-being is every bit as important. Reclaiming your own self is essential to nurturing your child. Here are a few options I suggest to parents:
1. Practice self-compassion.
Acknowledge the challenges in your life and stop criticizing yourself for not being a “good-enough” parent as evidenced by your child’s behaviors. As you mentally embrace yourself when you are feeling most challenged, you are modeling a compassionate way of being in the world that imprints on your child. Research has shown that self-compassion is strongly linked to mental well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and better relationships. Can you imagine how increasing your self-compassion could help your relationship with your child?
2. Develop interests outside the home and your child.
Learning taikwondo, taking a pottery class, or joining the adult swim team are just a few examples of what you might do. It will infuse your family life with extra energy as you come home with a glow and show off your new moves. Helping to widen your child’s narrow window of interests is a healthy side effect of widening your own scope of activities.
3. Spend quality time with your child apart from chores and homework.
Sit down on the floor together and really join in your child’s activity. Learn to notice small signals, try to see the world from his or her perspective. Sideways activities are a great way for children on the spectrum to include their parents in their passions. So take the time to learn all about the hummingbird’s pollination behavior or whatever interests your child. It may seem like your child prefers to be alone, but the truth is that children with autism get lonely too. They need you to help them build that bridge to connecting with others.
4. Above all, don’t mistake your child’s lack of social responsiveness with a lack of connection to you.
Your child’s attachment needs are just as strong as typical kids. It is just harder for kids with autism to communicate their needs and emotional feelings. Have faith in your efforts as a parent, and try to treasure the small moments that make your family a place of safety and comfort not only for your child but for yourself as well.