Raising a child is challenging, special needs or not. Throw in difficulties with sensory integration, executive functioning, and social thinking and those challenges can at times seem insurmountable. I remember there were days when I could hardly wait until Jacob went to sleep so I relax and collapse on the sofa. The end of the day just couldn't come soon enough.
So is it any wonder that we as parents with children with autism forget that there is life beyond autism? We are under so much pressure to make sure things run smoothly at school, that all of the doctor and therapist appointments are kept current, and all of our bills are paid and not past due. So for Jacob, I considered being his caregiver as my part-time job. Besides being his mom, I was his personal assistant keeping his calendar, finding him competent service providers, setting up, facilitating play dates, and making sure everything was prepared for the next IEP.
It's a lot for any parent, but it's our job whether we like it or not. So, when I was in the office of Christopher Mulligan of Groupworks West and found this list, it really struck a chord. And I think most of this advice can be applied to all families, not just those with children with special needs.
So, here it is, The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Families:
1) Slow down the pace of your life: Autism treatment is not a race, doesn't have a finish line, and should not be approached with a "do or die" attitude. The journey with your child is a marathon, not a sprint. As the saying goes, stop and smell the roses. Help your child do the same.
2) Less or more: Don't load up with activities every afternoon - therapeutic and/or recreational. Leave time for hanging out, baking, playing in the backyard, or digging a hole and getting dirty.
3) Talk less: Yep, just don't talk so much. It's really OK to allow periods of silence, periods of listening to music or the birds, or the wind. Talking less will improve the quality of your communication.
4) Prompt less: Try to remember that if prompting was a successful strategy then you wouldn't need to continue to prompt all of the time. Prompting leads to more prompting and shuts down your child/teens problem solving/thinking.
5) Get out of the house: Develop routines that take you out of the house for recreation, errands, exercise, and family visits.
6) Set your priorities: Consider what is important to the quality of your life and make time to improve the quality of your life.
7) Be proactive: Problem solve in a proactive manner. Don't wait for a crisis and then react to the crisis. Think prevention at all times.
8) Say what you mean and mean what you say: Don't waste time giving directions you can't or won't enforce. Be selective in what you say and then enforce limits quickly and with authority.
9) Build community: Find ways to surround yourself with community - religious, cultural, recreational, or political. Finding a group of people that understand what you are going through is essential to not feeling alone. Reach out to other parents when you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Be available for other parents when they feel the same.
10) Have fun: Enjoy your life! Autism does not have to define your life. The best therapy more often than not is no therapy at all - get out of the house and have a good time! Having positive experiences with your child is essential to your child's growth and your family's overall well-being.
(Wording in italics added by me)