Parents of children on the autism spectrum know all too well that things can take a turn for the worst at any given moment. If your situation is anything like mine, it often happens when you least expect it.
Autism Crisis Examples:
- You’re having a nice family dinner at your local corporate restaurant, and on the way out, your child pulls the fire alarm.
- You’re at work when you receive a phone call from your son’s school informing you that he has climbed a tree at recess and the fire department has been called to get him down.
- Or perhaps he has stuck a piece of crayon in his nose and requires outpatient surgery to remove it.
Any one of these events might throw off the parent with the best intention and skills set, but for the autism spectrum parent, they are often “part of the norm”. Unfortunately, when parents get so used to these events as part of their “norm”, they run the risk of not recognizing when they are over-stressed and in need of crisis management.
Kinds of Crises
All of the above examples are actual events that have happened to our family. If you’re an autism parent or professional, you may be nodding, or maybe even chuckling in knowing-agreement. These incidents can vary from the bizarre to the downright dangerous.
For example, the day my son went missing for three and half hours, requiring the assistance of local law enforcement to locate him, was perhaps one of the most frightening of my parenting existence. But there have been lesser issues that have greatly disrupted our family life, such as a sitter quitting without notice or a school telling you your child is no longer welcome there.
I define an “Autism Crisis” as any event that affects you or your family in such a way that you are shaken to the core. It’s not a very scientific definition, but that is by design. We all have different levels of what will affect our daily functioning and emotional stability. One person may be hardly phased by their child having a tantrum in a supermarket, but for another, it could trigger many adverse emotional responses. Your experience is just that; your experience.
Whatever emotions you experience as a parent during a “crisis” moment, is okay. Allow yourself to feel it.
How A Plan Can Help Reduce Stress
Having a plan is necessary while raising a child with autism spectrum issues. Most families know that they will need a plan A, B, C and most likely D with each situation. You learn very quickly to have fluid expectations and to prepare for the worst possible scenario…just in case. While it can be exhausting to be constantly planning, thinking one step ahead of your child and creating back-up plans, having a plan will actually reduce your stress more effectively than not having one. So let’s talk about how to do that, step-by-step.
Developing Your Plan
1. Be aware of what a crisis looks like in your household.
- Take a moment to make a list of all the things that had the most emotional impact on you and your family. Mine are listed above at the start of the article if you need to reference them. Keep in mind yours will probably look different from mine.
2. Call on your “village” for help.
- Make another list of the people you can call on for help when you need it. This might be as simple as your best friend, spouse or counselor. Or it could be that you need to have the sheriff’s department on speed dial. Keep in mind, this may be a short list. Most families I know have only a handful of truly reliable, emotionally-healthy people they can go to when they need support.
- Now put a star next to the person who I like to call the “talk-you-off-the-ledge” person. There will most likely only be one or two of these. For me, it’s my very closest friend who also has a child with special needs and understands me well. This is a person who will be gentle enough with you when you’re breaking down crying, but honest enough that they will steer you off the wrong path.
3. Kick your Self-Care habits into high-gear.
- After my son was found in the woods by police search-and-rescue crews, our family made a conscious decision to take the following day off school and work. We did nothing, stayed in our jammies, slept late and rested. That kind of stress must be followed by downtime to allow the body and brain to recuperate. Our society greatly underestimates the power of rest and sleep in relation to stress. Without proper rest, we simply cannot function.
- Additional self-care practices might include yoga, prayer or meditation, good nutrition, or a hot bath; Whatever helps you to be the best “you.” If you don’t currently have a self-care practice, read this post for more information on how to develop one.
4. Don’t make any major decisions.
- Your child’s school just sent him home for jumping into a pond during recess. You’re convinced they don’t really understand your child and that the school may not be the best fit. But before you start researching new schools, hold on…wait at least a day or two before making any changes or major decisions.
- When our bodies and brains are under stress or trauma, it clouds our ability to think clearly and make rational decisions. It’s why we say things we don’t mean or later regret during an argument with a spouse. It’s why you may want to hold off on calling that divorce lawyer for a few days as well.
Seek professional help if you need it.
Counseling has changed my life for the better and literally saved my marriage. I feel strongly that I need to do my own work in order to help others, and as an autism parent, you are no different. You simply cannot give out of an empty cup, and you cannot teach your children coping skills you do not possess.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you know your limits.
And in the world of autism parenting, it may be the only thing over which you actually have some control.