Blog #228~DS-ASD and Managing Stress as a Parent
Let’s face it, parenting is stressful with all the demands that are draining on a daily basis. Raising a child with special needs compounds this even further. A child with an intellectual or developmental disability such as autism, Down syndrome or a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD) has even more demands, with living skills, communication and behavior. These additional needs means the parent has to work even harder. This can drain parents both physically and emotionally. I have been dealing with this stress for 24 years, as my son Nick has a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD. Here is what the stress looks like for a parent of a child with special needs, and some coping mechanisms to combat it.
So what does stress look like for parents raising a child with special needs? Yes, there are the usual demands of running the household, carpools, extra curricular activities and homework of the child and any siblings, but there is much more. There are often additional therapy and medical appointments on the calendar each week. Balancing this with all the other activities can be tricky, with someone feeling short-changed in the family. As I mentioned earlier, a child with special needs may need additional help with daily living skills, communication and behavior management. If a child is non-verbal or limited in speech, the parent may have to play the guessing game on what the child needs. Deficits in communication skills can often lead to behavior problems. Maladaptive behaviors may prevent the family from doing activities, attending outside family gatherings and special events together. One parent may opt to stay home with the child, which over time, may impact the marital relationship. This also creates a sense of isolation. All of this can lead to feelings of guilt by the parent, which is one of the biggest internal stressors.
So, how can you manage stress as a parent of a child with DS-ASD or any other intellectual or developmental disability? Ideally, a parent would schedule a vacation or spa weekend getaway, right? But what if you don’t have the time or resources for such an elaborate indulgence?
Stress Management in my opinion, begins with mindfulness. Carving out a few minutes for yourself is key. Dedicate a time where you can meditate. Free your mind of all distractions and breathe deeply. This will allow the heart rate and blood pressure to lower and reduce stress. Last week, I had lunch with my niece, who recently returned from a spiritual cycling journey and yoga retreat overseas. We talked about the concept of truly being present in the moment. The focus can be as simple as being aware of your senses……..
Step outside notice how the sun and warm breeze feel on your face.
Quiet yourself and enjoy the texture and taste of each bit while you eat. Take in the aroma and softness against your fingers, as you bite into the pita bread.
Listen and feel how the snow crunches under your feet, take in the cool air and watch as you exhale, seeing your breath rise up into the blue sky.
Sit silently, maybe with your child or pet, feel the softness and listen to your breaths. Do nothing, just be as one.
Put on your favorite music. Focus on the beat, various musical instruments, vocal tones, and harmonies. Note the meaning of the lyrics, and how it all feels to your body, mind and soul.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the moment that you are in right now, and freeing yourself from worry. Spending time in the present and focusing on your senses, will allow you to feel less tense.
Pairing mindfulness with gratitude cancels out negative thoughts and worries. Some days can be challenging and exhausting. In those times, remind yourself that there is always something or someone to be grateful for. Showing gratitude can boost morale for yourself and others.
Taking time to get physical activity in daily can greatly reduces the effects that stress can take on the body. Even small bursts of exercise, taking a fitness class or a walk around the block can make a difference on how you feel.
It is also important to reach out and share what is going on with friends, family and support groups. Isolation can be debilitating. Sharing your struggles can give you a fresh perspective. There is much to be gained in finding a support group of like-minded individuals who are on a similar path. In the DS-ASD world, we share success stories, challenges of our child’s delays, and difficult behaviors. We offer suggestions on how to find a better way to manage the unique challenges associated with our kids and applaud the milestones they hit. When you share your struggles, (and do so with a dose of humor), you don’t feel alone anymore. That can be a powerful thing.
Reducing stress doesn’t have to be a big, fancy trip or getaway. Taking time to exercise mindfulness, gratitude, doing some type of physical activity, and opening yourself up to others, are all simple ways to reduce anxiety. Allowing people to come in your life for support, will help make difficulties more manageable. Most of all, it’s essential to take some time and find ways to relax your mind. This allows you to re-charge and lessen the degree to which stress can affect the body and mind.
That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂
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