Lowering Stress for You and Your Autistic Child

Mother and son painting together
Alexander Grabchilev/Stocksy United

Want to make life with autism easier and less stressful? Here are a few simple tips for keeping your home calmer, your outings easier, and your interaction with school and community more successful.  While these tips are specific to autism, they may also help in other areas of your life!

  1. Make — and Keep — Schedules. This may be something you've been planning to do for a long time, but you never actually put it on your... schedule. People with autism generally prefer to know what's coming before it happens, and also prefer to have scheduled events actually occur. This is a pretty reasonable preference, and one that's easy to follow through on (at least most of the time).
  1. Preview New Experiences. People with autism usually want to know what they're getting into before they actually get into it. This, once again, is a pretty reasonable thing to want. Where are we going? What's going to happen when we get there? Instead of assuming that everything will work itself out without planning, plan ahead — and provide your child with autism with a visual preview via photos, stories, videos, or any other visual medium you have available.
  2. Keep Your Expectations of Your Child Reasonable. Your child with autism may have many strengths, but she also has quite a few challenges. That means you can expect that some situations will be more difficult for your child with autism than they would be for a typical child of the same age. So, plan accordingly. Instead of wishing and hoping for the best possible outcome, plan for an outcome that's positive and achievable.
  3. Keep Your Expectations of Others Reasonable. Wouldn't it be nice if the school re-engineered its classrooms so that all students could be successful? Wouldn't it be great if your church was accepting of a child who makes loud noises? Wouldn't it be awesome if your mother stopped being critical and started being supportive? Sure — all these things would be lovely, but as they're not going to happen anytime soon, why get your knickers in a twist when they don't happen?
  1. Join in on Your Child's Interests. No, you don't have to be an expert on Thomas the Tank Engine — but if your child is, it may make your life (and his) pleasanter and less stressful if you learned a little bit about his special interest. Taking time to share interests (even if you aren't really a train fan) can lower stress and increase your connection to your child.
  1. Know Your Own Limits. No one has unlimited energy and patience. That's true even if you're a terrific parent who loves your child a great deal. If you're spending all day, every day, with a child with special needs, there's a good chance that you will become overwhelmed, frustrated, or tired. When that happens, there's a good chance that you'll snap at your autistic child — or someone else — and wind up creating unnecessary tension and anxiety. To avoid a negative experience, know how much you can handle and find a way to give yourself a break. If someone else can take over childcare for a little while, so much the better. If not, a good option is to let the TV play babysitter while you take a little time to rejuvenate.
  2. Pick Your Battles. You may feel that your autistic child should have more friends, more social skills, better eye contact, broader interests, a healthier diet, and you may be right on all counts (at least from your own point of view, if not from your child's). But if you spend your days working toward every goal, all the time, not only will you be exhausted and disappointed, but so will your child. Pick a few goals that really make a difference, and address them consistently through multiple channels and in multiple settings. That way, you have a good chance of success — and at the same time you're less likely to overwhelm yourself or others around you.

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