When people find out I have three children with autism (After the initial shock!) the question that follows is: “How do you do it?” So I thought in creating a blog post especially for all the autism parents out there who I am in contact with on a regular basis and ask me this question in order to get some tips. So here it goes:
1. I am Vegan: Being vegan helps me tremendously to cope with the challenges associated with autism. I ensure to eat properly every day and do not skip meals, when time is tight I ensure to have a banana, apple or granola bar always handy.
When you are hungry, your mood changes and your frustration level goes up. Because the foods I consume are quite healthy, I hardly ever get sick and I have endless energy!
Let’s face it; you cannot afford to get ill when you have a child to take care of during the day who needs all your attention and energy, let alone three on the spectrum! So changing the way I see food and taking care of my health has been an amazing journey with spectacular results. If you want to read more about my vegan journey please check my Trini Vegan Blog.
2. I force myself to have a “Me” time: When the boys go to bed, I ensure to have a “me” time even if it is just 10 minutes daily. It is so easy to get “lost” in taking care of your children when ignoring your own needs.
My “me” time includes watching a movie or videos that make me laugh, learning a new recipe, doing my nails or trying a new hairdo. As an autism parent, we shouldn’t forget about ourselves.
If you feel selfish spending any time doing something you like, let me tell you that you are already doing a tremendous job with your child and you should try (As much as possible) to do something that helps you release stress and recharge, not only for you but for your child.
If you are happier and well-rested, you will be able to help your child more efficiently and with a good, positive attitude.
3. I sing and listen to music: Singing has such a powerful effect on stress. Singing releases endorphins also known as “happy hormones”, it is not surprising that as soon as you start singing you start feeling better! You do not have to be a professional singer or know how to sing in order to do it.
When I feel overwhelmed, I start singing the first song that comes to my mind and helps me to remain calm and collect myself. I also listen to a lot of music, usually Opera which is my favorite or any other type of music I might like.
It is an amazing and useful tool if you are feeling too grumpy and you are about to bite someone! It helps a lot with mood swings. After all, they say music soothes the beast within each one of us. 😉
4. I have other interests besides Autism: Sometimes you have to let autism unattended (Mentally at least) for a little bit (I know, it seems impossible…we all know that most of the time it does not work that way).
However, even though, indeed my entire life revolves around coping with the challenges associated with raising three children on the spectrum I also have other interests that help me as a person and that remind me that besides the fact that I am an autism parent, I am first and foremost an individual.
I love blogging, cooking, exercising, reading and debating and it is something I try to do as much as I am able to.
5. I do not compare my children with others: I try my best to provide an atmosphere where my children feel they can progress at their own pace without being compared to other children.
Their achievement (even the tiniest) will be acknowledged and celebrated. This creates a flexible ambiance that makes them want to learn more, as a parent it makes things a little more manageable. Of course, like everything with autism, it doesn’t work like that all the time and at all times.
However, one element we should always keep in mind is that ALL children with autism can learn and they ALL can make progress if they are giving the right support and encouragement. Did I say encouragement? Yes, encouragement! Let me tell you, it is such a VITAL key for our children’s success.
6. I ignore criticism: As parents, we know there is always someone who comes to tell you that you are either spoiling your child or you are not doing a very good job, they seem to choose the exact moment when your child is having a sensory overload or meltdown in the middle of the grocery store and your hair is about to drop.
Entering into an argument with a complete stranger usually does no end up well and certainly, it does not accomplishes anything therefore, I ignore it.
Avoiding confrontation with people who do not understand what you and your child is going through works best for me and helps me focus on what is truly important: How to help my child at that moment rather than trying to “correct” someone.
7. I try not to sweat the small stuff: This is one of the hardest things to do and yet it is one of the things that can help you cope better. It is nearly impossible not to feel you have to micromanage everything around you in order for things to go smoothly, I get it. But we are only humans and you cannot run faster than you have strength.
Sometimes, your floor will not always look sparkly, maybe you didn’t vacuum the rooms today and the dishes aren’t clean but they are not going anywhere so they can wait!
Maybe your child spilled water all over the counter that you just took the time to clean, your Aspie daughter leaves her clothes all over the floor every day despite the fact you tell her not to do it or your adult son only wants to eat jello for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It will drive you insane to fight and argue about these things every day, sometimes for your own benefit (And your child’s) you have to let the small stuff go for a little while and pick up your battles. When you do so, you will feel a little weight off your shoulders and you will be able to cope with your stress better.
8. I exercise: Just like singing, exercising also releases endorphins making you feel happier and energetic! It helps your heart pump beautifully and helps you keep in shape. This is certainly not about “looks” but about being healthy and fit which in turn will help you cope.
When you are fit, you feel “light” and you are ready to face all the world challenges and more! It does not have to be a rigorous exercise, anything that fits right with you and your body. I try every day to work a little on my abs, calves, do push-ups, pull-ups and squats.
When I have the chance, I play basketball and walk. One can only get older but the way we age has a lot to do with the choices we make. Autism is a lifelong condition and autism by three is something that it is always on my mind.
Choosing to go vegan and exercising are choices that I make in order to help me stay as fit and healthy as possible and avoid illness so I can help my children better.
9. I try to have a positive attitude: Which does not mean, it is all the time. Just like most of you, I have my “moments” but I take them in, ride with them along and move on.
My boys are like chameleons, changing constantly and going through phases, sometimes it is very hard to keep up with all the changes but I try my best to focus on the positive aspects and try to have a calm approach to the negative ones, I know it is easier said than done and it’s okay, we are all here to learn and no one is perfect.
When you realize how many children in this world live (Survive?) every single day without a parent present, you can put things into perspective in your own life and realize how blessed your child is to have you in their life. Your child might not talk as fast as you would like him to but if he is saying a few words, cherish it. Your daughter might take years to learn a new skill, instead of focusing how long it took her…focus on the fact that she did it.
10. I accept Autism: Perhaps this is the number one point that a lot of parents struggle with but one that helped me from the first day. I accept Autism and it is not going anywhere.
I am not ashamed when I tell someone my children have autism. It is not a crime, it is not their fault, and it is not mine. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. If we want society to understand and accept our children as they are, then we need to accept them ourselves.
We should never, ever feel we need to hide from others the fact that our children are on the spectrum. I don’t have to “fight” autism because it is going to be a lost battle but because Autism carries a whole lot of challenges, instead of misusing energy in feeling sorry for me or my children, I have to use cleverness in order to “mold” autism in a way that can make it work for them individually.
Accepting the fact they are on the spectrum is the first step to help them reach their full potential.