Autism and Stress Management: Reducing Stress for Autism Parents

All parents in the autism world deal with tons of stress. It can be very overwhelming. A lot of times it can be difficult to find ways to reduce stress in our lives. I know, I’ve been there and I’m still there as both a parent and as a professional. So today we’re going to talk about autism and stress management.

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Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from a recent podcast episode with developmental pediatrician, Dr. James Coplan. He gives wise advice for both parents and professionals and ideas on how we can all reduce stress in our lives.

One of the key questions I asked in the interview about autism and stress management was “what are the key pieces of advice or strategies you can give to reduce stress in the adult’s lives, anything for parents or professionals?”

And Dr. James Coplan actually referenced another podcast interview that I did with Lori Unumb. She had said, “look, we finally got used to the fact that we’re just not going to be perfect if our kids’ clothes don’t match one day. That’s okay. It’s all right.” And James can also speak from personal experience having had the opposite experience in his family where everything had to be just so, and in fact, in the long run, that was more destructive to his sister’s development and to all of their mental health then than just saying, you know, life isn’t perfect.

It’s okay. And I think parents need to guard against, there are folks out in the autism world who are fear mongers and they sense that they can capitalize on parents’ anxiety as a way of making a quick dollar to be very blunt about it. They still engage in fear-mongering. If you don’t do this, your child is doomed kind of an approach. The problem is it’s a Greek chorus and there are these people over here saying it. These people over there saying it and these people over there saying it and parents were thrown into a panic even more so than they need to be. Your child is not a little bottle with nitroglycerin and if you handle it wrong, it’s going to explode it and everything is lost. It’s not like that. Children are very resilient.

Even kids on the spectrum are resilient. Parenting is trial and error. If you’re the parents of a 1 and only typically developing child and you’re learning as you go, your kid is resilient and they’re going to withstand most of your gaps without a long term consequence. This is not a do or die situation. In fact, being a little bit unwound is good. Bear in mind that reverse genetics is a chance that as the parent of a kid on the spectrum, you may have more than a touch of anxiety or perfectionism yourself. Get in touch with that, learn how to let that go. Exercise, do yoga, meet with friends, whatever it is. Dr. James Coplan mentions how he had a very good colleague, Ruby Salazar who was a therapist who said this, “your child with a disability is a member of your family but your child’s disabilities should not become the center of your family.” That’s one of the vital pieces of advice I can give when it comes to autism and stress management.

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And I think those are words to take to heart. You’ve got to pick which hill you’re gonna die on, so to speak. And most things aren’t worth it. I had a mother tell me this: if I only get 95% of the things on my checklist done tonight, that’s okay. This was another mom and you could see the rock kind of lifted off her shoulders.

She had a kid who had CP and he had drooling. She actually also said, and if there are some days I didn’t want to touch his poopy diaper and I didn’t want to touch his drool. And I looked in the mirror and at first, I thought, what kind of a terrible mother am I? And then I realized all those feelings are okay, all those feelings are okay. You can see her just sit up in her chair. And all of that is okay. Those feelings are okay and you should be kind to yourself. And then the next day you pick up and you start again. And it’s, it’s all right. Take a deep breath. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And you’ve got to pace yourself and save some of your energy for the next month.

There are ups and downs and lots of taking 2 steps forward, 1 step back and a lot of it is trial and error and you’re going to constantly be changing what you need to do. I wouldn’t get too focused on where your child’s at on the spectrum. I mean he’s a person with strengths and weaknesses. My goal for Lucas is that he reaches his fullest potential and he continued to reach his fullest potential. It’s not a finite thing. He’s only in his early twenties, so that bar has to stay high so he remains reaching his fullest potential, whatever comes down the pike. We want him to be as independent, as safe and as happy as possible. And that really is the goal I think for all our kids, whether they have autism or not. You’re going to have a much harder time with autism and stress management if you focus too much on where the child is on the spectrum.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the podcast about autism and stress management. If you want more content, check out the podcast at marybarbera.com/podcast. Wherever you’re watching this, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video with others who may benefit, and for more information, you can attend a free online workshop marybarbera.com /workshop and I’ll see you right here next week.

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