Learning how to be an optimist as a parent with 2 children with autism

Parenting Two Children With Autism: How I Became an Optimist

When I gave birth to my two children with ASD, I had no idea what kind of parenting journey I was facing. While I was prepared for significant life changes, like other parents of children with autism, I was unprepared for the added fears and worries that having children on the spectrum brings.

I began reading voraciously on the subject of autism, finding comfort in knowledge and shared experiences with other parents.

Reading books with personal stories from parents helped me feel less isolated. I realized that other parents’ experiences raising challenging children rang true: feeling guilty, no time for themselves, fear of what the future holds, frustration and exhaustion.

Over time, I began to ask myself – how can I have a good life in the world of special needs?

It’s ok to acknowledge the challenges

In one of my favourite books, Optimistic Parenting, author Mark Durand talks about keeping a journal to gain insight into your thoughts and feelings. This is a great way to discover what is really bothering you. Durand found that many parents shared a list of common feelings and fears such as:

  • This will never get better or may become worse.
  • I will never have time just for me.
  • My child is doing this on purpose.
  • This situation is (someone else’s fault) for not handling it like I suggested.
  • It’s my fault there is a problem.
  • Why am I always responsible for my child’s behavior?

Mothers tend to be much harder on themselves and often take the blame or feel they are being blamed by others for the problems their child has. We engage in negative self-talk and accept too much responsibility for the well-being of the family. We take on too much and try to function on our own.

So how do you go from being a pessimist to an optimist?

1) Knowledge is power

For me, feeling empowered changed my life outlook. I obtained this empowerment through reading books and attending trainings in the field of autism. The more knowledge I gained, the better I felt about my parenting situation with 2 children on the spectrum because I knew their challenges were not a result of my parenting. I also felt better equipped to deal with medical appointments, therapies, and dealing with the school. If you don’t know what questions to ask, it can be hard to get direction with solutions and coping strategies.

2) Find the tools that work

Acquiring information also gave me valuable tools to help my children. I learned how to use visual supports, alleviate their anxiety, tackle sleep and toileting issues, and how to cater to their special dietary needs. When new problems arose, I felt confident that I would be able to address these knowing I would be able to find appropriate information through books and websites. I didn’t feel like I was at the mercy of waiting for the next therapy appointment to start working on an issue.

3) Get respite help, and take time for yourself

I’ve blogged in the past about making time for just for you. Both parents need to do this. I took up figure skating at age 40 – no easy feat, but the friendships I’ve made through this sport have been worth it. Skating is a challenge I do just for me. I set short and long-term goals, schedule practice time, and the mental benefits of regular exercise have kept my stress levels in check. Find something just for you and don’t feel guilty about taking time away from the family. You are a more effective parent for having done so.

4) Don’t judge yourself when you are down

It is very normal to feel overwhelmed or sad, especially when a diagnosis is new. Even experienced parents still have these feelings from time to time. The beginning of the school year has always been a challenge for me – new teachers and aides, new school, change of routine, and school expectations often cause feelings of despair. I know these will pass and talking to others about it helps me through the difficult month of September.

5) Try to get more sleep if possible

It may sound trivial, but sleep is a huge factor in families that have children with ASD, and affects both a child’s behavior and quality of family life. No one functions well with chronic sleep deprivation. I never had more than 4 hours of broken sleep for 7 years which greatly affected my ability to make good decisions and tried my patience both at work and home.

Know your feeling are shared by many parents, and find the practical tools and strategies that help you cope

When I started Autism Awareness Centre in 2003, it was to share the many resources that I found that helped me change my perception.  The many books and tools that are available these days can help parents by letting them know their feelings are shared by others and there are concrete ways to improve your outlook. Many of these resources allow parents to explore the dark side of parenting, but then offer do-able strategies on how to improve the situation.

The more I educated myself about autism, the more empowered I felt to change things for the better and feel more in control. Changing our perception of a challenging situation can change the way we address it. The more tools and strategies you have at your fingertips, the better you will cope. No one has a perfect life and we don’t have to be happy all the time. Most people want to feel like they are doing their best and making the right decisions for their family. By addressing our negative side and thinking more optimistically, we can do just that.

Recommended Reading

Autism in the Family: Caring and Coping Together

Empowered Autism Parenting: Celebrating (and Defending) Your Child’s Place in the World

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism

For Clinicians:

Autism and the Family – Understanding and Supporting Parents and Siblings

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  1. Lydia Ledzinsky says:

    Hi Maureen, great article, which I can really identify with. I attended the conference here in Halifax at the end of March. I am a parent of a 16 year old girl on the spectrum . Our struggles now seem to be reminders and remembering them, especially in common everyday routines. I have a question for you, are you aware of any watch devices that would help us with this? We bought a Garmin device for her, however are still trying to figure out on how to add tasks and reminders on there. It appears like it would need to to have WiFI near by to sync for it to work.
    Any advice on other devices you have heard from parents or yourself that is working for them would be greatly appreciated.
    thanks
    Lydia Ledzinsky

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