How To Self-Care as a (Probably) Autistic Parent to a (Definitely) Autistic Child (principles may apply to others too)

Ah, self care. So trendy. Bubble baths and spa days and chocolate chip cookies (homemade… by someone else) and making lists.

Self care is not a one off event that you schedule in your diary every few months just before you hit burnout. Especially if you are the kind of person that only realises you are headed for burnout as your world comes crashing down around your ears. So here’s what I have learned to do to help myself.

– A sensory diet is not just for kids. If you are/might be autistic or have autistic traits, you will probably benefit from a sensory diet just as much as your kid does. This does not mean you have to go bouncing on a trampoline or sitting on a wobble cushion. It does mean you might try a backpack as a way to provide extra pressure to your body when out and about. Or dancing while you do the housework.

– Frontload your day with a Feel Good. Something that is small, manageable in the maelstrom of your mornings, but that is about you. Bonus points if it feeds your soul. It does not have to be the same thing every day (I find it boring if I’m stuck doing the same thing, even if it something I enjoy) but it needs to be something that helps you, not something you think you ought to do. Characteristics of a Feel Good: short duration, minimal to no set up, easy to put away when interrupted, open to expansion, bonus points if it’s vaguely creative. Examples: colouring, writing, drinking a cup of tea out of a special mug, mindful body wriggles, playing games on your phone (yes really).

– lists are your friend. We tend to think of lists as to do lists, but there are other kinds. Lists of smells you like, or small pleasures, or positive attributes about you or your family. Lists of accomplishments and aspirations. Master lists for hypothetical and not so hypothetical situations (packing for holidays of various durations or days out, Christmas, hosting events, groceries, theoretical movie binge watch order lists). If there’s something looming and the thought of organising for it is making you panic, write a list.

– expressions of positivity in the day to day. I try to record a #MomentOfJoy on my Twitter every day. Something small that was better than the rest. Maybe you could do a gratitude journal, or one of those jars where you write something positive about the day and stick it in. The important thing is to do it regularly, and find small things, and actually record it somewhere accessible. On bad days, you have something to look back on and to remind you that you will find good things again. And sometimes, you can still find less bad things on bad days, and that totally counts.

– it’s okay to struggle. The whole autism thing can be hard to handle sometimes. Especially when your kid’s self regulating behaviour sets off your own sensory difficulties. This is more common than you think. We just don’t talk about it. It’s okay to put on ear defenders when your kid starts yelling. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by the touchy feely (put a t shirt you have recently worn onto a teddy bear or something squishable so they can hug that instead). It’s really difficult, but those struggles are also what make you a good parent to your child – you understand the sensory differences, and so you can help them learn safe ways to self regulate at home and in public. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier of course.

– find your tribe online. They will be able to help you when the sensory 💩 hits the proverbial fan. They will laugh with you, not at you, and help you see the good in the everyday. Why online? Because it’s easier.

Im sure I have more to add. But for now, my brain has turned to a little bit of mush. So I’m gonna do another self care thing. Im going to recognise my limit, not berate myself for having one, recognise that actually I’ve written quite a bit today and stop. Sometimes, to just stop is top self-care.

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