I think that parents of special needs children, as well as professionals that work with children with special needs, can sometimes lose themselves in their everyday life / work.
I once heard, the first year I was working with children with autism, that the burnout rate for professionals who work with children with autism is, on average, 2 years. 2 years?! I thought that was so crazy at the time. I was just starting out and couldn’t imagine how someone would not want to do what I do. My job was so awesome – I got to play all day!
It’s been 14 years since then and I understand better now. I still love what I do. However, I can absolutely understand how managing violent behaviors, having things thrown at you and working with parents who are under extreme, non-stop stress and sometimes don’t save kind words for you, can really start to get you down.
I rely on a series of self-care practices to keep myself healthy and whole. Let’s face it, as parents of children with special needs or as practitioners working with kids on the Spectrum, we are not going to be very effective in any of the goals we are trying to put in place if we are so frazzled and stressed that we feel horrible most of the time.
Each semester, I have at least 1 or 2 interns from the American University of Paris : my alma mater. I love having students come in to my structure. It’s a beautiful thing to see them light up as they learn about ABA, the Montessori approach and the Waldorf approach and my special combination of the 3 : “the Alix approach” (hehe). 🙂
They are so excited to be a part of my team! I love watching as they discover what autism is and the beautiful kids that are often hiding behind this messy label. They form relationships with the kids and the parents. They celebrate the children’s successes and revel in the feeling of having made a difference in their lives thanks to an activity they organized, a project they created or a special field trip. When the semester is over, as part of their final projects to get credit for the internship, each student must interview me. They choose 5 questions from a list of 20, however, somehow, every student always chooses this question : “what do you wish you had known when you first started?” I always answer in the same way! “Self-care” (that’s the short answer). The long answer is, although I was warned, I wish I had understood even better how important it is to create boundaries, to understand you love the kids you work with but you cannot be a martyr to the kids you work with. You can be available 100 percent of the time to families – but only if you want to burn out! If you want to keep going strong 14 years later, or 25 years later, or 50 years later being strong for your child or being a professional that works with children with special needs you need to start taking care of yourself – first – NOW.
If you’re a parent, that means dedicating yourself to your child’s progress a lot of the time but not all.of.the.time. Make time for your spouse, your other children, watch the movie you want to watch, take a coffee break at a local café, read a book of your choice, go shopping… You get the picture. Take care of yourself and you will be able to be stronger for others.
I am really proud to say that years later, I love my job more than ever and I have developed a long list of self-care strategies and rituals. I have met some of the most beautiful people through my work – the children with special needs, their siblings and their parents teach me some every day.
If you’re not sure how to unwind and recharge your batteries, borrow an idea from my list of my own self-care practices! 🙂 These all apply if you are a parent of a child with special needs or a professional working with special needs kids.
My list of self-care practices :
♥ Go for a walk. This can be around the streets of Paris (this is what I do when I have time between sessions) or a nature walk if you live or work close to a forest or a beautiful park or garden.
♥ Go for a coffee at a nearby café.
♥ Light an organic “tranquility” candle and sit in silence and meditate for 5 – 10 minutes.
♥ Read a great book that helps to inspire creativity and help your reconnect with, and nourish, yourself. I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
♥ Keep a gratitude journal.
♥ Start your own Happiness Project. Every home needs a copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
♥ Take your dogs for a walk.
These are just some of my favorite self-care rituals. What are yours? ♥
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