By Cyndi Kershner
Autism moms and dads, I have four simple words for all of you: take care of yourselves. If you want to be there to see the fruits of all your hard labors in healing your children, you must make time for yourselves and reduce your stress levels.
Let me be the cautionary tale. I have been working hard the last 10 years toward healing my son’s autism. Non-stop sixteen hour days of therapy, supplements, negotiating insurance, navigating the school system, IEP’s, special diets, test results, and figuring out how to pay (or not pay) all the bills…sound familiar? After eight years of this, something had to give, and the thing that gave was my health, and pretty darn near my marriage.
What good is everything we do for our kids as autism supermommies and superdaddies if we crash and burn in the process?
I know, I know, you’re saying there’s absolutely no way you have the time, energy, or money to take care of yourself along with all the other things that need to get done. But just take a portion of the time, energy, and money that you’re pouring into your kids’ therapies and direct it toward yourself.
There is no class or book or doctor out there who will help you with this one.
I wanted to pass along some in the trenches tips on what we all need to do to stay proactively healthy and grounded as we go through this crazy process of trying to heal our kids, and these are the practices I have adopted over the last two years in the hopes of creating health in my body and in my family. So here it is: How to Survive Autism 101.
First, get a spiritual practice. It can be Jesus, Buddha, a Higher Power, the great Cosmic Force, I don’t care what it is, just have a belief in something larger than yourself that you can turn to so that the whole thing isn’t on your shoulders.
Second, exercise. Really. It helps more than I can tell you. Again, doesn’t matter what kind of exercise, whatever floats your boat. And the boat floating isn’t optional; you actually have to like it, or it’ll be just one more thing to check off your list.. Walk, chase the dog around, garden, do yoga, hike. A couple times a week, enough to get your heart going.
Third, reduce your stress level. Stress is the root cause of most illness, and its endemic in the autism community. Exercise helps a lot with this one. Prayer and meditation are really helpful here as well.
Keep the financial stress manageable by not overspending your income every month; being in serious debt for years on end is not healthy. My partner and I decided to prioritize therapies rather than doing them all at the same time, and stay mostly in the black.
Have at least one other interest besides autism. It will keep you balanced as you work to create the best possible outcome for your child and family, and it helps to be able to relate to the rest of the human race. Remember, not everyone knows their way around the methylation pathway.Listening to some comedy every day. My partner and I watch a sitcom we like every night before bed. It’s nice to have something predictable we can count on every day, and laughter also takes the stress down a notch.
Get out, away from autism and the house, once a week. Go to Barnes and Noble, have a latte and read a novel. Go to the movies. Go for a really long drive and get a cheeseburger. Recruit anyone who is not an axe-murderer and will take your children, one night a week. For single parents, I know this is really tough, but try for regular time away.
Eat well. I don’t know how many parents I talk to who go to great lengths to make amazing food for their children and live off junk food themselves. For me it’s the siren call of the potato chips whenever the stress really hits. I am a reforming junk food junkie myself, and eating well is one of the most grounding things you can do in your parenting.
Junk food days are always the days I lose my temper, and when I eat well I usually don’t.
For couples, marriage therapy is great. Having an autistic child is one of those life lemons that breaks up a lot of marriages, and therapy saved mine. They’re not always savable, but it’s worth a try. It took two years of intensive therapy before we figured out how to make our marriage work and thrive with this new unexpected development called autism.
These are some of the tricks I have been using to take care of myself. My health is slowly turning around, and my marriage is thriving. Here’s to creating a beautiful life even with the challenges of autism!
Cyndi Kershner is the mother of a thirteen year old recovering from autism. She is a yoga teacher and therapist. She lives in Bothell, WA on a beautiful farm with her partner of eighteen years.