You do everything you can to make sure your child with autism achieves their full potential. Day in and day out, you ensure their emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing to the best of your ability. You read countless articles, apply the tips you learn, and do the best you can. You give your child your all.
But you’re tired. You feel drained, exhausted, and like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s been weeks, months, or even years since you took time for yourself. After all, your child comes first, right?
This is caregiver burnout. And it’s a very real thing.
Think about the safety talk flight attendants ramble through while you sit anxiously awaiting takeoff. What do they say about the oxygen mask? They say you have to put it on yourself before assisting anyone else.
If you can’t breathe, and if you can’t take care of yourself first, how will you take care of anyone else?
Self-care is essential for everyone. But caring for the caregiver is crucial to your mental well-being, relationship with your child, and family dynamic.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
When you’re caring for a child with autism, you may not find the time to notice your symptoms of caregiver burnout. Instead, you reach a point where you just feel so hopeless, overwhelmed, and stressed, you break down into tears or take it out on your family.
Do not let yourself reach this point.
Taking the time to learn what caregiver burnout looks and feels like could lead to a happier you, a happier child with autism, and a more fulfilling family life.
- Your emotions are all over the place.
- You don’t make plans with others, or you repeatedly cancel.
- You have no hobbies.
- You have no or limited babysitters.
- You don’t take time to go to your own dentist or doctor appointments.
- You don’t sleep well.
- You feel numb, cynical, or resentful of others.
- You’re exhausted.
- You’re irritable.
- You abuse alcohol or other substances.
- You have trouble concentrating.
Do any of the above resonate with you? Even if only a few hit home, you’re likely experiencing caregiver burnout. And it’s time to change how you’re doing the autism caregiver thing.
10 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout
- Ask for help. And accept it. While it’s true you know your child’s needs better than anyone else, getting help from others can help your mental wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to ask trustworthy people around you. You may be surprised how many people actually want to help but aren’t sure how! They could help with housework, bringing your other children places, or give you an hour or more to yourself.
- Find support. Even if you don’t want to get professional help from a therapist, having a support network is crucial. Find someone you can talk to. Even if they just listen, it’s therapeutic.
Perhaps join a support group for caregivers of children with autism. You could share your experiences with others going through similar situations with their child with autism. Support groups help you avoid caregiver burnout and get the encouragement, support comfort you need.
- Take a break. It’s challenging to get away, understandably. Especially when you are your child’s primary caregiver, but try your best to work up to longer stretches of breaks for yourself. Obviously, you need to do this when your child is with someone you trust. Perhaps start with a walk, then go shopping. Work up to going to a movie or lunch with a friend.
Do your best to schedule some time away at least once a week, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time.
- Keep a journal. Studies show a direct connection to improved emotional and physical health if you routinely write down your deepest thoughts and feelings. A journal is also a great way to keep track of your child’s progress. To better organize your thoughts, use a journal to log what is working for your child and what isn’t.
- Cut yourself some slack. Being the caregiver of a child with autism can be challenging. And that’s okay. Don’t buy into the fact that you “should” be able to do it all on your own. When we’re exhausted and stressed, we tend to focus on what didn’t go the way we wanted. Instead, celebrate every single victory, no matter how small.
And let us remind you, YOU’RE DOING AWESOME.
- Don’t put off autism therapy. Not only is getting your child involved in autism therapy beneficial for their growth, but it’s also helpful to you. Your child’s BCBA will be able to educate you on how to practice the skills they learn during therapy while in your home or out in public. This way, you won’t have to spend hours researching and deciphering what activities and skills you can work on with your child.
Not to mention, early intervention has been proven to help children grow and advance faster than if they start therapy at a later age.
- Accept that there are limits. You aren’t a superhero. (Well, you are, in a sense, but you know what we mean.) You’re the caregiver of a child with autism, among many, many other things. Accept the fact that you cannot do it all. You CANNOT. And that’s okay. Caregiver burnout happens when you think you can do it all and try to do it.
But what’s the first thing to go when you try to do it all? Self-care. You’re going to wear yourself thin burning the candle at both ends. This goes hand-in-hand with asking for help and taking time for yourself. But sometimes, the first step is to admit you can’t do it all.
- Say “NO.” It can be difficult to say “no” once in a while. But it’s crucial to avoiding caregiver burnout. People asking you to help do this or that for the school or work or whatever, they aren’t worried about caring for the caregiver. This is when you need to set boundaries. Know your limits. Set healthy boundaries and stick to them. And don’t feel guilty about it.
- Don’t forget about your partner. Sometimes autism caregivers tend to focus so much on their child with autism they have nothing left for their partner. If you have a spouse or partner, make sure you schedule time meant only for them. This doesn’t mean you need to give the leftovers to them. Talk to your partner about forming a good “date-night” or “alone-time” schedule. A strong partnership while raising your child with autism is more helpful than you think.
- Plan special times with the other members of your family. Part of caregiver burnout is caused by parenting guilt. You might think, “I don’t pay attention to my other kids,” or “I should be doing x, y, and z for them, and I’m just too exhausted.”
Just like how you need to plan time to spend with your partner, it’s important to do your best to schedule special time with your other children. Even if it’s playing a board game or two with them, that connection with your other children can help ease any guilt you may have for focusing so much on being an autism caregiver.
Avoid Caregiver Burnout By Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First
You love your child with autism, and you do everything you can to ensure they live a healthy, productive, fulfilling life. But you can’t do that if you’re irritable, exhausted, and just plain worn out. Self-care is so vital, especially for caregivers. Don’t give up on yourself. After all, your child wants you to be happy. And when you’re happy, they’re happy. And when you’re both happy, caregiver burnout can be a distant memory.
If you’re looking for highly-effective ABA therapy for your child with autism, contact us, we’d love to get your child started on the road to success!