I received a very interesting idea from a reader this morning who wanted some guidance on mental health for parents and carers of Autism. For something which is not often talked about, I was very very keen to get my thoughts and ideas down on the old electronic paper. So let’s think about this concept for today’s blog post.
How is your mental health and more importantly, how is it going to be over the summer holidays?
As parents, many schools would argue that rest is for those giving care within the home during the hours of 9am and 3pm (if you’re in the UK.) And they would be right, or would they?
Raising a child with Autism or any other disorder for that matter can be tough, and schools fail to appreciate that. It is emotionally draining as well as financially exhausting. Parents, like myself in the past, will often forgo visiting public places and not take part in normal activities simply to avoid the embarrassment and stress of a meltdown. When Jon was much younger I would feel like having a meltdown myself. Starting a family day out with high hopes would often be thrown by the curbside due to shouts, swearing, punching and kicking only to return home half an hour later.
Parents can feel as though they are being held prisoner in their own homes on sunny days at weekends because of their children’s Autism. As much as there have been campaigns up and down the country for Autism friendly parks and places to visit, sometimes, it is just the getting to these destinations which is more than families can bear.
So what can we do about it? I have come up with some solutions which I hope you will find useful to stop summer passing you by from behind a closed door. They are good for your child and good for keeping your mental health in excellent shape during the coming weeks;
- A kick around in the park with a ball; Ok, so this might sound like a no brainer but a vast open space where there is a minimal chance of traffic and no noise from other children can be the best way to spend an afternoon. Jon would make immediate enemies in the busy playground as he would sit, mumbling to himself or follow other children around when they clearly did not want to be followed! Jon was happiest when walking around a nature reserve, or park with a duck pond and trees to hug. If I thought about taking him to an indoor adventureland, I was usually asking for trouble. National Trust places are great for having vast open estates of rambling woods and fields to run across, and because you need to be a member, they don’t get hugely busy during the week. English Heritage is another good one. Sporting ruins of castles, (just remember English Heritage buildings tend not to have ceilings) they are great places to roam.
- Weekday Outings; When Jon was smaller and not glued to the teenage laptop years, I would take him out all over the place during the week. Of course, during term times this can be very tricky, but even during the holidays on weekdays and on slightly cloudier days, places tend to be less busy. One of Jon’s favourite things was to ride on trains. Living close to London at the time, I would spend the entire day riding up and down on the DLR. It didn’t matter to me. If he was happy, then that was fine by me, and that brings me on to the next point….
- Be flexible; I found the best thing is always to be flexible and leave the days full of errands for another time. Go wherever your child wants to go. Even if it means spending three hours in Warhammer or Early Learning Centre. I spent days in the latter, often taking meals in with me. Don’t be stressed out before you step out the door or your child’s switch in mood will only make you feel worse.
- Have a list; I would keep a list in my head of places to go. If you’re not keen about keeping stuff in your head, make a map and put flags on it for all the places you know you can go or you can take your child to so you have back up plans. Jon would change his mind at an instant, usually as we were going out the door. It is a good thing to refer to pinned up in the kitchen. With Jon’s PDA, his mind would shift violently so much so that if I didn’t come up with an alternative destination in five seconds, he would refuse to leave the house. You might not think having a list is needed in your household, but it will make you feel better if it’s there anyway.
- Avoid visiting family; You might think it’s a good idea but seeing too much of your family will only give them the chance to give out well meaning advice which might set you on edge. For me at least, visiting family was often more stressful.
Getting out in the fresh air even for half an hour will help keep your sanity running smoothly. Talk to your GP or the school or if you prefer, call the National Autistic Society Helpline if you’re concerned about how you feel mentally. Bringing up a child on the spectrum is normally what everyone else can’t begin to imagine. They will try to help, although it might not feel as though they are helping at all. Keep them at a distance if you think they will make you feel worse. And always, always make time for yourself. Even if it’s a trip to the supermarket for an hour.
You are not alone. Being the parent or carer of a person with Autism can really suck sometimes. But that’s ok. You’re doing a brilliant job. Just be kind to yourself and give yourself breaks during the day during the school holidays. Even if it is just to go sit in another room with a cup of tea. No one is going to tell you off.
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Michelle Hatcher is the author of the Progress Pentagon parenting courses and founder of the best-selling : Unleashing The Positive Mind Masterclass. She is a certified CBT Therapist, NLP Practitioner, mother of 15 year old Jon who has Autism and PDA and certified Life Coach.
She is also a member of the Complimentary Medical Association, the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists
and The Association of Integrative Psychology. Her autobiography, How To… uncovers the secrets of Autism and how to overcome it plus it tracks her life as a mother of an Autistic child, how she developed her best-selling courses using CBT and NLP with Autism. She is also a public speaker on Autism Awareness.
She lives in Wiltshire with husband Nick, son, Jon and three cats; Apple, Missy and Augusta.