By Dr. Dana Kober, Psychiatrist
It’s World Autism Awareness Day. And while many are focused on bringing more awareness to the condition, I’d like to take this time to draw attention to those caring for those with autism – the caregivers.
Caring for children with autism can be quite stressful. Studies have shown caregivers of children with autism have increased rates of anxiety and depression — and it tends to be higher in mothers than fathers. There are also increased rates of divorce in families caring for children with autism. Given the statistics, it is important to make caring for yourself a priority, too.
Here are a few ways how:
- Join a support group. Being around people who understand your struggles can help relieve stress. It may take trying out a few support groups to find the one that works for you; so, don’t give up if you don’t like the first one you join. If you’re Spanish-speaking, Legacy’s Southwest Houston clinic on High Star St. holds a bimonthly support group for Spanish-speaking parents.
- Take a break. Set aside time to do something for yourself — watch a movie, read a book or take a walk. Schedule a weekly date night to stay connected to your partner. Spending quality time alone and/or with your partner is crucial to your well-being. If you don’t have a sitter, sign up with your local department for mental health and intellectual disabilities for information on respite services.
- Take care of your own mental health. Consult a psychiatrist or therapist if the demands of caring for your autistic child is causing you depression, anxiety or excessive stress.
- Ask for help. Getting someone to help with household chores or simple errands can help lighten your load. You may feel like you’re “burdening” someone else, but your friends or family are probably more than willing to help. Legacy’s social work department can also help identify resources such as transportation, support groups and more.
Remember, you can’t take care of your child properly if you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted. Take time for yourself. For more information on caregiver support, check out AutismSpeaks.org’s Family Tool Support Kits.