Self-care for Adults who Care for Children with Autism

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

Raising or caring for a child with autism can be a very rewarding experience. At the same time, the challenges that come with this experience can also be extremely stressful for parents and caregivers who may lack their own support systems.

All parents, whether they are raising a typically developing child or one with special needs, have a difficult job to do. Raising a child with autism presents its own set of challenges, which can quickly escalate to create tension within the home if parents do not have the knowledge, support, and relief necessary to manage the unique obstacles and difficult situations that come with trying to meet their child’s special needs.

Autism is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and behavior. Individuals with autism exhibit varying degrees of these difficulties depending on their cognitive levels and where they fall on the autism spectrum. Social deficits and an inability to communicate effectively can be extremely frustrating for a child who is unable to get his or her needs met. In some cases, this frustration causes the child to act out or exhibit problematic behaviors in order to express discomfort, seek attention, or access something they want.

Helping a child with autism learn to communicate, deal with his or her emotions, and manage behaviors can be difficult for families to handle. Some children require constant supervision, which can create anxiety and result in fatigue for the caregiver. And, while it is common for parents to neglect their own physical and emotional needs for the sake of their children, wearing yourself out will not help you help your child.

Every parent could use a break, so don’t be afraid to call on trusted family members and friends. Taking a break from caregiving, whether it is for an hour, a day, or a weekend, will allow you time to relax, regroup, and refresh. Time away can also help you regain the physical and emotional strength you will need to face the challenges ahead.

For couples, it is important to remember that each parent is different, and may deal with stressors differently. Some parents spring into action, learning everything there is to learn about their child’s diagnosis and ways to help. Others may fall into depression, create distractions, or throw themselves into their work. Some parents feel guilty, as if they caused their child to develop autism.

If you are co-parenting a child with autism, it is important to respect your partner’s mode of dealing with the situation and help him or her obtain the help he or she needs. Communicating with one another is crucial, and can shed light on the emotions each of you is feeling. Therapists who specialize in family counseling may be helpful, but you should try to locate a therapist who has experience in counseling clients with similar family dynamics.

There are many supports available to families of children with autism. An online search will reveal a host of local community resources. You can use these resources to find doctors, academic programs, and other services that fit the needs of your specific child. You can also use these resources to create a network of support that meets your specific needs as a parent. Therapists, support groups, and respite services may offer that needed relief. Online blogs and chat rooms are sometimes helpful as well.

Parents who create a strong support system and take care of themselves are better able to handle the everyday challenges of raising a child with autism. They are also better able to appreciate their child’s accomplishments, recognize his or her abilities and potential for growth, and enjoy the journey.

By Teka J. Harris, M.A., BCBA​

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, and our newest school in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit