April 2nd is World Autism Day. This day aims to put a spotlight on hurdles that individuals with Autism and others living with Autism face every day. Although, I may be a therapist at Bayridge, I am also a parent of a child with Special Needs. Parents, I understand, not because of my training in my field, but because I live those hurdles daily- along with you. I understand the exhaustion of having to constantly think outside the box so our children can cope in new or difficult environments. I understand the strength needed to advocate for services or tools to have their needs met. I know the struggles associated with lack of funding for respite and the lack of available respite. I know the comfort of a support circle of people that truly understand the hurdles our families endure.
If you know me- then you would know I am a person who believes in inclusion, acceptance and kindness. I have spent most of my life educating people to see an individual’s ability and not their disability. I host events around Ontario that promote inclusion and create social settings for many children and adults living with special needs. I often don’t see the daily “Challenges” because they have become so routine.
But then a global pandemic hits and our “routine” becomes non-existent and unbalanced.
Like all parents, we were left to accept our unprecedented “norm” without any time to plan. Except, it isn’t just school and work commitments that parents with special needs children need to figure out. For many of us, it also includes cancelled therapies and specialists, no respite and trying to explain the significance of the current situation to a child or adult that has no comprehension. Schooling our children does not include the supports they have at school with educational assistants or special tools needed to complete the tasks.
I see you. I am you. I am feeling the same stress. I am feeling exhausted. I am worried about how this is going to affect my child, our family – and honestly my balance when we return to our old routines.
First, I want to tell you that your feelings are incredibly valid. Don’t discount them. Acknowledging how you are feeling will help you cope. Many parents sacrifice self-care due to the constant needs of our children. I implore you to make time for you. Take a bath, go for a walk, read a book. Breath.
If I may, here are some wellness tips that may help bring more stability and calm to your day.
1. Stick to a routine. Create a schedule around going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Get dressed every morning. In my house, I schedule in time to work, homeschool and clean so that I can just check things off during the day. Don’t worry if your schedule gets changed occasionally- that’s normal! For example, some days, I have to go pick up my groceries. Other days, the weather doesn’t allow for our daily walks! Lower your expectations and just go with the flow! You are not the teacher, EA, PSW, Audiologist, Doctor, Respite worker, Speech therapist etc. You are the parent. Create a routine that isn’t overwhelming but helps create balance in your child’s life so they can predict how their days will look which will hopefully lessen their stress and inability to cope.
2. Try and get some fresh air at least once a day. This could mean just sitting outside or opening windows!
3. Schedule in Self-care every day! This could be many things so I will list a few examples. Take a bath, read a book, prayer, journaling, listening to music, cooking, knitting, woodworking, singing or painting. For some, just doing your hair and makeup might make your day brighter!
4. Write gratitude’s each day. Find something good in all your days to help with distracting us from the negative thoughts. This could be writing something amazing you accomplished, it could be about a heartwarming story you saw or read. You could be thankful for something that you were blessed with.
5. Reach out for help. Find your village of support. Use technology to video or call your family and friends often. One of my co-workers said instead of calling it social distancing we should call it physical distancing. I love this concept. We may not be able to hug or visit our friends but there are still ways we can remain social with them. There are many references and easy to use programs available such as Zoom or Facetime to connect with loved ones.
6. Remember, that this is temporary. The present moment may seem overwhelming and terrifying. Remind yourselves that this will pass. One day, we will return to our routines and have access to all our supports again.
Take it one day at a time. Don’t judge yourself, you are doing the best you can and that is more than enough. You are more than enough.
Sending you strength, love and courage.