Self care rituals are essential for autism parents and autism professionals alike! 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.
Autism mom burnout & autism professional burnout is real
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.
Autism parents and autism professionals must learn to manage stress through self care
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.
Start these self care rituals as early as possible
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”. 🙂
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.
Self care rituals for autism parents
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.
Self care rituals for autism professionals
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.
Self care rituals for autism parents and autism professionals
Go for a walk
This is one of the most popular self care rituals! Walk in nature, walk through the streets of the place where you live, walk on the beach… Take advantage of your surroundings and enjoy a long walk outside. I personally take care to take regular breaks between writing and my sessions to walk through the streets of Paris (where I live).
Go out for coffee
One of my favourite things to do to relax is to go out for a coffee. Sure I could make coffee in my office but it’s not the same as getting out, breathing in the fresh air, interacting with the outside world and taking some quiet time for myself.
Start a meditation practice
Take 5-10 minutes to sit in silence. I love to add an organic, naturally scented lavender candle to my meditation practice. If you find it hard to just sit in silence, practice looking into the flame of the candle for a minute or two. By focusing on the flame, you will be able to silence your thoughts and relax.
Make time for reading
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.
Best books for self care
Make reading one of your go-to self care rituals!
Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Start Where You Are – A fun & interactive journal with prompts and inspirational quotes
Keep a gratitude journal
This is probably my favorite self care ritual. Dedicating time to feeling gratitude for everything you have in your life, and writing it down, is so impactful. If you are dealing with the daily challenges of autism in your life, you make feel pretty low at times. This is perfectly normal given the extreme challenges you may be facing – watching your child meltdown and struggle to learn, intense behaviors, frustration and disappointment in your own personal relationships, to name a few.
Clear clutter and create a haven in your home
Clutter can put you in a slump quickly! As a special needs parent, you may feel that you are wading in toys as soon as you get home. Build a progress nook for your child so that those toys are organized and so that you have a system in place that your child can follow to pick up toys and materials and put them away. Once you have your child’s things in order, start clearing and putting away your own. No matter what size your apartment or house is, make sure you have a corner or an entire room that is organized and decorated in a way that inspires happiness and calm in you as soon as you go into it.
Start your own Happiness Project
Every home needs a copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
Have a pet
At my learning center, we have 2 mini yorkies. They interact with the kids as companion dogs and they bring so much joy. Any one who has been close to a pet, knows how much happiness they bring to your life. Having a dog is known to help some children with special needs feel calmer and feel safe in, and more in control of, their environments. Make walking a pet a self care ritual!
Increase your physical activity
This one of my absolute favorite self care rituals! We know that moving our bodies and getting exercise is crucial to our wellbeing, yet still most of us don’t get enough exercise. (I have definitely been guilty of this!) Make sure that you make time for exercise. It will make a huge difference in how you feel and is sure to increase your happiness and decrease your stress.
These are just some of my favorite self-care rituals. What are yours? ♥
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