Self-care and compassion tips for parents of children with ASD

Posted on 09/25/19 12:54:pm


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The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in a child can lead to a variety of emotions for parents. Some find relief in the validation a diagnosis provides. Others feel scared and overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for a child with special needs.

Studies show that parents of children with ASD or another health condition are at risk for a lower quality of life if they don't take time to practice self-care and compassion.

Not sure where to start? Before beginning a self-care and compassion practice, Sue McKenzie Dicks, an expert in compassion resilience and Rogers InHealth leader, recommends that parents answer a few important questions:

  1. What can you control? What can't you control? Once you've identified these, practice letting go of what is out of your control.
  2. Have you set any unrealistic expectations for yourself, your children, and your support system?
  3. What boundaries might you set with others that could support you in your mission to be the parent you want to be?

The importance of self-care and compassion

Many parents may feel that there simply aren't enough hours in the day to take time for themselves. Considering that parents of children with ASD are often relied on to provide more intensive social and emotional support, they are especially vulnerable to compassion fatigue or burning out.

Dr. Joshua Nadeau, clinical director of Rogers Behavioral Health in Tampa, says parents sometimes feel that they have to choose between caring for their child and caring for themselves. "Self-care isn't something you do instead of caring for your child. You both need care, love, and attention," Dr. Nadeau explains. "Your needs are just as important as your child's. If you don't address your own needs as a human being, then soon you will no longer be able to care for your child in a loving way."

Forms of self-care

Dr. Nadeau encourages thinking about self-care in three equally important categories: respite, support, and restoration. Identifying ways to engage in each of these aspects of self-care can be helpful for parents.

  1. Respite

"Respite refers to having someone temporarily take care of your child," says Dr. Nadeau. You may make plans for formal childcare or have a babysitter familiar with your child's needs, family member, or trusted neighbor or friend take care of your child for a short period of time so you can reset and refresh. "Remember, we're talking about a planned part of your week – not just 'call in case of emergency,'" Dr. Nadeau clarifies. It's also important to remember that while your partner or spouse may be able to provide respite at times, they are also likely in need of a break for their own well-being.

  1. Support

The support category of self-care involves having a trusted friend who you can talk to on a regular, reliable basis about deep and sometimes difficult topics. This friend should be someone you feel safe and comfortable talking to about the positives and negatives in your life. Like respite, a partner can also provide support. "Again, it is great if you have a partner who can fill this role when necessary, but it is critical for you to have someone not involved in your day-to-day routine who you can talk to," Dr. Nadeau explains.

  1. Restoration

Restoration is intended to refill your tank and mend the wear and tear that parenting can take on you as an individual. While restoration is also important in your marriage or relationship with your partner, it is vital that you identify what is most restorative for you as an individual. Remember, you and your partner may have very different ideas of what self-care activities are most healing and helpful. Examples include mindfulness, getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well, and quiet time alone.

Compassion when times are tough

Like self-care, having compassion for yourself and others is important for parents of all children, but especially those on the autism spectrum. When a child is struggling, one of the most important things you can do is respect yourself. Remind yourself that it's not always easy to be the adult when your child is having difficulty, and remember that you're doing your best.

"You may not understand why your child is having a tantrum or meltdown; however, it's probably not because they enjoy being mad, frustrated, upset, or miserable," says Dr. Nadeau. "In those moments where you feel as though your child is beyond your control, or that you can't do anything right, cut yourself some slack."

Treating anxiety and depression in children with ASD

Rogers Behavioral Health is proud to offer a unique program to treat anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) among children and adolescents with ASD. Call 800-767-4411 or fill out a screening request online to find out if this program is right for your child.


Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.