The stress of autism parenting
My two eldest children headed back to school today. After weeks of preparation and stress and lack of routine, it was finally back to normal life for my ASD kids.
Although we have done as much preparation as we can, I was still expecting the worst. Getting my kids back to school after a five and a half week hiatus is always a tough assignment.
As I posted on social media earlier today, from the moment I woke up I felt I was in an alternate universe or in an episode of The Twilight Zone:
My son woke up calm, cooperative and happy. There was no sign of the usual angst, stress and worry that traditionally accompanies the first day of school. All was well.
And I didn’t quite like it.
It’s not that I didn’t welcome the change. In fact it was rather awesome not having to follow the usual first day back routine on a very busy morning for us all. The routine normally goes like this:
- First we have the positive pep talk to get him in a better mood to face the day
- Then I comfort him as he inevitably succumbs to his worry and gives in to his tears
- I then reassure him that he has nothing to be ashamed of and that he is not a bother or a bad boy
- Next I use every ounce of my patience not to get annoyed at him for continuing to be sorry and sad
- Then I often resort to tough love to get him out the door and into the car
- Finally I find myself bribing him with a food or TV reward to get him out of the car and into the school grounds
It was fabulous not having to deal with all that angst and worry and shame this morning. It really was great.
However I could not relax, even though the signs were good and continued to be good throughout the day.
That seems to be the lot of the autism parent. Stress is a part of our lives. We’re either stressed because of what we ARE dealing with or stressed because of what we COULD be dealing with.
From my experience, we are forever waiting and watching for the worst. Some examples include:
- being on edge when we go out, always on the lookout for potential sensory triggers
- being vigilant on social outings, monitoring the interactions between our child and others
- being attuned to conflict at home, ever-ready to intervene in escalating situations between our kids
It really is an exhausting way to live.
Which is why, this morning, I found myself even more on edge than normal. Rather then reveling in the novelty of an easy morning, I kept waiting for it all to go horribly wrong.
And even though we got through the morning, I then spent the day with the phone next to me just in case. A good morning can often be the precursor to a challenging afternoon.
However the phone did not ring and my son came home all happy and proud of himself. He even agreed to unpack his schoolbag and even showed me a worksheet from the day.
I was in complete shock. Yet I still waited for the axe to fall.
And eventually it did, during the evening, as the culmination of the stress of the day manifested in a series of meltdowns before bed. It was always going to happen – it was always more a case of WHEN rather than IF.
But it would be nice to be able to take things as they come and to have the freedom to relax and truly enjoy the good moments, without the constant worry of what might happen next to spoil the moment.
It’s almost as if I can no longer relax or drop my guard. Living with special needs for nearly 12 years now has somehow changed the way I think and react. I’m always steeling myself for what comes next, preparing myself to manage and mitigate the next meltdown, upset or issue.
It’s not the healthiest way to live but, after 12 years, at least I can see it for what it is.
I have no magic bullet to fix this (don’t worry I would not keep it to myself if I did!) but I guess I wanted to share the constant and underlying stress of autism parenting.
Can you relate? And do you have the elusive magic bullet to fix it?