Parent Support

Establishing Support for Yourself

Many parents tend to put themselves last when it comes to the list of “Things to Do.” This arises from necessity, too few hours, and a deep instinct to put their children first. These drives are natural and encountered by most families. However, it is important to consider that by making time for yourself (your relaxation, stress elimination, enjoyment), you generate more internal resources that you can draw upon to support your child and family.

There are a number of ways that you can do this. Join a support group to help you find ways to cope with the different stressors you face, or set aside a couple of hours each week to do things for yourself that you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, or exercising.

Join Parent Training Programs

Parent training programs may be an effective way for addressing the needs of the family. In contrast to center-based programs where a therapist works one-to-one with the child without the parent(s) present, parent training programs are typically implemented in the family’s home and community. You can be taught how to implement intervention and manage behavior during daily routines such as mealtime, toy play, bath time, or bedtime. Similarly, parent training can be provided at the park, grocery store, or shopping center. Providing parents—and even siblings and grandparents—with this type of training may help the entire family better support the child with autism and one another. Further, parent training is often empowering for parents as they can identify the impact they are making on their child’s future.

Join A Support Group

Seek out support networks for you and your immediate family, including the grandparents. You will find groups on- and off-base for parents, siblings, grandparents, and other extended family members. To find a support group, consult the Resource Listing in this Guide and the Resources Directory on Operation Autism. In addition, consider the following resources:

  1.  The Autism Society has local chapters across America (www.autism-society.org).
  2. Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org) has an excellent online resource database.
  3. Contact your MTF and EFMP office to find out if there are local groups.
  4. Contact other local hospitals to find out about any other groups.
  5. Contact your local school.
  6. Do an Internet [SK1] search. Use key words such as “autism support group” plus the city you live in. Also search Yahoo Groups for any autism support groups in your area.
  7. Can’t find a support group in your area? Then start one yourself! This may sound daunting, but you can be assured that you are not the only parent in your area who is looking for support. Start with finding just one other parent who has a child with autism and suggest you meet one day. (You can no doubt find another parent in your area via local schools.) If this is successful, continue to meet regularly and spread the word about your new support group. Word of mouth is your biggest advertiser, and in no time you will have a support network in your area. Plus, you will have the personal accomplishment of initiating this support group!

When looking for a support group, it is wise to visit different ones to find a group that is the best fit. You may want a group that focuses both on support as well as education (e.g., bringing in guest speakers). You may not always have too many options, but many groups are open to suggestions in order to better meet the needs of their members.

Use Counseling Services

Although support groups can be helpful, some parents may benefit from counseling services provided by appropriately trained counselors or psychologists. Whether provided individually or as part of a group, counseling may help to reduce parent stress as well as provide additional family support. Counseling can also be provided for siblings and grandparents to address the broader family context.

Use Respite Care

Parents also need time away from the child with autism (and his/her siblings.) Many families can access respite care through state service agencies. Many service providers offer respite as a separate service for families and can help identify people to stay with the child while the parents have a night out. If not, parents can post flyers for respite workers at local colleges or share a respite worker with another family. Occasionally, extended family members can be “hired” as respite workers. In any case, parents should commit to scheduling time away from the child with autism (and his/her siblings) at least a couple times each month.

Setting aside personal time can be very difficult. Where does one find “extra” time? What should you do with that time? There may be respite care available to you, and remember that ECHO allows for provisional coverage, which should include respite care. If you have a group of people you trust (e.g. friends, fellow support group members), consider starting a babysitting co-op through which families exchange hours of babysitting. There are websites available that help organize such groups. If you can’t find childcare, you may be able to reserve a couple of hours when your child(ren) is/are sleeping. Once you find that time, use it to choose an activity from a menu of favorite activities that you enjoy and help you decompress. To develop this list, think about those activities that make you happiest and bring you satisfaction. Keep any needed materials as well as your list in one location. This can help maximize the limited time that you may have. You may want to “try on” different activities to see how they work for you (e.g. doing yoga, playing video games, watching a new sitcom).

By renewing your internal resources, you may not only feel less stress, but you may find yourself better able to meet your family’s needs.

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