Coping and Self-Care Strategies for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Over recent years, there is an increased community awareness for the mental health of children, teens and young adults on the Autism Spectrum. While caregivers and professionals focus on addressing these concerns, we also need to be aware of the mental health of parents.

The demands of raising a child with ASD can lead to mental health concerns for parents themselves. Various studies have shown that parents of children with ASD are on average at greater risk for depression and other mental health problems than parents of children with other disorders (Abbeduto et al. 2004, Benson and Karlof, 2009).

Compared to neurotypical children, children with Autism often present more challenges for parents or caregivers in many aspects of parenting. Parents can encounter issues in areas such as teaching life skills and socially appropriate behaviours while addressing challenging behaviours, setting up effective sleep routines and working on social / communication skills.

It is essential for parents or caregivers of children with ASD to build effective coping strategies or routines for self-care. Using these strategies can reduce stress, provide fulfilment and improve a parent’s outlook while raising a child with an ASD. Parents can find suggested coping and self-care strategies below that can help overcome some of these challenges.

Seeking Out Learning Resources – Learning resources can include attending lectures, discussions, workshops, webinars and practicing role-playing exercises. Parents of Autistic children play a central role in their child’s development and parent learning programs can help increase their knowledge of parenting practices for their children.

The main goal of these programs is to help parents develop and update their parenting competences. Topics can include:

  • recognizing and understanding specific features of Autism,
  • adjusting to a new diagnosis,
  • developing an awareness of obstacles in social communication and social relationships,
  • addressing emotional and behavioural problems,
  • teaching life skills in daily activities to develop independence,
  • parent advocacy skills

Suggested Resource: Autism Ontario Workshops and Webinars

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion-Based techniques such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help parents to better manage daily life challenges, and face upsetting events in a more adaptive way.

This strategy can include learning mindfulness-based practices along with other stress reduction and cognitive therapy approaches. Most parents of children with ASD find themselves in unfamiliar and distressing situations. Parents can use these techniques to cognitively restructure the situation and develop a new approach.

Self-compassion involves the ability to cope without judging and criticizing ourselves by learning to be kind, self-comforting and understanding when confronted with personal failings or when feeling frustrated. By practicing self-compassion parents can increase their level of happiness, optimism, and improve their life satisfaction. 

Suggested Resources:

Anxiety Canada

Mindshift CBT App

Image Source: Neil Moralee

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a deep relaxation technique that is used to control stress and anxiety, and relieve insomnia. Progressive muscle relaxation is based on the simple practice of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time followed by a release of the tension and a relaxation phase.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a strategy to learn to cope with daily stress and tension and requires only 10 minutes to 20 minutes per day to practice.

Progressive muscle relaxation is also an excellent tool to help parents become familiar with their body and the signals it may be telling them. With practice, parents can learn to accurately identify and diminish the signs and signals of stress and tension in their bodies.

Resource: Anxiety Canada. How to do progressive muscle relaxation.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Video

Suggested Parent Resource:

Raising Children, Mental Health and Wellbeing

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