Welcome back to our blog series: Autism Support During the Pandemic. In my last blog, I wrote about how sheltering in place can actually reduce stress for neurodiverse teens and adults, due to less daily “social overload” or “sensory overload”. However, they may experience stress related to adjusting to online schooling or work, living in a time of uncertainty, and facing a global pandemic. Today, I would like to address the stress you, as their parent, may have in regards to them being home all day, every day.
Spending so much time with your child can make pre-existing problems in your relationship worse. This can lead to more conflict in your home. You might find your patience is wearing thin. Additionally, your teen or young adult on the spectrum might lose their temper or snap at you more often.
As a Parent of a Young Adult or Child with Autism, You Have Even More on Your Plate due to COVID-19
Most of our country has been advised to maintain social distancing and shelter in place. So now, you’re taking on a lot more at home than you’re used to. As a parent, you have to manage caring for your children when they used to be in school. And, you may be working from home. Furthermore, you may have to take on the new role of a homeschool educator. That’s a lot. You might be feeling emotionally drained and under-appreciated. Ultimately, your stress may have drastically increased as a result of COVID-19.
Adding to your strain, your teen or young adult with autism might need more emotional support during the COVID-19 crisis. The routine and structure they’re used to have disappeared and they are trying to cope with the changes in the world around them. So, I am going to offer you some strategies to emotionally support your child during this time. Then, I will talk about some strategies to manage your stress and emotions.
Strategies to Emotionally Support Your Neurodiverse Teen or Young Adult During the Coronavirus Pandemic
It sounds simple, but one of the most powerful things you can do for your child is listen to them. Listen as they express their fears and feelings. You’re eager to fix their problems and make them feel better. So, you might find yourself offering words of wisdom or encouragement before they’ve had a chance to tell you what’s wrong.
I know your desire to give advice comes from a very loving place. As a parent, you are deeply concerned about your child’s wellbeing. You want to do something to help your child. This drive to help them and fix their problems can build up inside. You might feel pressure in your chest, or the urgency to speak up and offer advice. It’s important to notice when this happens inside. Recognize your problem-solving is caused by your desire to jump in and help the person you love so much.
Below I want to discuss the alternatives to going into problem-solving mode. This might seem counter-intuitive. Also, my words below might seem too obvious or simple. I hope by the end of the article you can understand the deeper meaning. I hope you will walk away with some good strategies that can have a profound impact on your child, and allow you to help your child more effectively.
Listen to Your Young Adult or Teen on the Autism Spectrum
Before you go to that “fixing” step and jump into problem-solving mode, it is very important to let your child express their feelings and worries. Try not to interrupt them. Letting them get it all out can help them move on to the next step of doing something about it.
I’ve noticed that many of my teen clients with autism and autistic adults need to be heard. I mean really heard. I actively listen to them and let them speak. In fact, I find that if I try to offer words of encouragement too soon, they often reject what I have to say. It’s like they dig in their heels and want to prove things are as bad as they seem. They can get stuck in a loop saying over and over again how awful or intolerable their life is or the situation is.
So, when they first speak. I listen.
Validate Your Neurodiverse Child’s Feelings
Next, validate your child’s feelings. I try to reflect back to my clients with autism how deeply I understand their pain. Most of my clients, whether they are teens or adults with autism, struggle to identify and express their feelings. I spend a lot of time helping them in learning how to do this. But, I also work hard to identify and tell them that I understand they are feeling. I know I got it right when they immediately show a sense of relief. They no longer feel emotionally isolated. Someone in the universe has understood them. Being able to do this as a parent, can create positivity and warmth in your relationship with your child with autism.
A former client told me about how a small change can trigger anxiety for him. Then he went on to describe this more fully. He said something like it feels to him that the world is suddenly spinning out of control and is going to crash. Whoah! That description made it clear to me how incredibly scary and out of control he feels when there is a small change to his routine. I finally got it at a deeper emotional level. That forever changed my way of understanding how challenging change can be for him, and for many people with autism.
Once you really understand your child’s pain from their neurodiverse perspective, you can’t help but feel compassion for them.
When we understand our children’s emotional experience better, we will have more compassion and understanding of what they are going through. For people with autism, to be understood by their loved ones creates an incredible bond. It provides them with a sense of healing. In fact, I believe many problems my clients with autism have, such as depression and anxiety, are due in part to being misunderstood and criticized.
Empathize with the Struggles They’re Having
Next, empathize with your children. I empathize with my neurodiverse clients by relating how so many of my other autistic clients have similar struggles. Or how I myself have had similar problems to theirs.
Empathy helps normalize the situation. It helps them feel less isolated and alone. Honestly, feeling isolated is a common experience for people with autism. When I say isolated, I don’t just mean physically. I mean emotionally isolated. They feel like no one gets what they are going through or how hard their life is.
In my clinical private practice, I have worked with a lot of teens and adults with autism. Many of them, feel misunderstood or criticized by their parents and the world. This has shaken the very foundation of their self-esteem. It has led to feelings of inadequacy and negative self-worth. They feel like they are somehow wrong, defective, or broken. I spend time listening, validating and empathizing. This builds them back up, giving them confidence in their identity.
"I cannot express to you enough how impactful listening, validating, and empathizing can be for your child with autism. When your child feels deeply understood by you, it increases their own emotional resiliency and self-compassion. Their capacity to deal with life challenges will improve as a result."
-Dr. Tasha Oswald
Strategies to Support Your Needs as A Parent with a Neurodiverse Child
Go on an “Advice Diet”
Consider going on an “advice diet” for the next week. See how it feels to give no advice to your child with autism. None. Zip. Zero. No advice! It might sound scary to you!
For the next week don’t give advice to your child. Instead, only listen, validate, and express compassion and empathy for your child. See how that may improve the closeness and warmth in your relationship. You might notice them turning toward you more, sharing with you more, and showing more interest in you. It also may help reduce the number of conflicts in the household during their period of sheltering in place.
When can you apply these strategies of listening, validating and empathizing with your child on the spectrum, while sheltering in place?
Well, it’s always great when your child is the one to bring up their worries or feelings with you. When that happens, listen! Try to understand their pain. Learn what is so hard for them. So many of my clients with autism have experiences that can be hard for neurotypical people to understand. In fact, understanding their perspective can even be challenging for me sometimes. I have to let go of my view of the world and step into their shoes.
Have Self-Compassion as You Cope with Being Home with Your Teen with Autism or Neurodiverse Young Adult
Listen to the pain your child has. Offer them compassion without criticism. This is healing for your child and your relationship with your child. As a parent, I want you to use this same listening ear and compassion regarding your own pain and challenges. Confront your issues with kindness rather than self-criticism. So many parents I know can be deeply empathic toward their child, but very critical toward themself. When you notice that you are saying, “I should have…”, pause and instead say a kind word to yourself, like “This is not easy. I see I am trying hard and I’m doing a good job.”
I am wishing you and your family well during this time. Stay tuned for my upcoming blogs on tips to improve immune function and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. These tips will be helpful for both people with autism and neurotypicals! As a parent, if you are wanting more support during the coronavirus outbreak, please consider joining our Online Autism Parent Support Group.
Join our Free "Online Autism Parent Support Group"
To Learn More Strategies for Coping with Stress Around Parenting a Child with Autism During COVID-19
During this global pandemic and sheltering in place, you may be experiencing more stress. Especially around parenting your teen with autism or neurodiverse young adult. We understand that spending even more time with your child may be hard. It may magnify pre-existing problems, and lead to more arguments. It may also cause feelings of frustration, irritability, and anger.
Our Online Autism Parent Support Group at Open Doors Therapy is for parents of a teen with high-functioning autism (15+ years old) or a young adult with Asperger’s type profile. In our online therapy group, we will provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment. There you can explore your feelings and learn new communication strategies to keep the peace in your home.
Dr. Tasha Oswald, a licensed psychologist in California, is an autism expert. She has created a highly specialized autism program and is offering this support group online. The group is available to parents who live in California. In our telemental health sessions, you will be given tools to support positive interactions with your child. Additionally, you will learn healthy communication strategies to use with your child with autism. We understand that emotions may be running high in your home. And worrying about Coronavirus (COVID-19) is taking a toll on your family. So reach out today and learn how we can help you. Typically, the fee is $150 per session. However, we are instead offering this support group for free to families during this pandemic.
Timely Resources to Help You in the Coming Days
Free Autism Newsletter
At Open Doors Therapy, we are dedicated to providing practical information for parents of youth with autism, neurodiverse adults, and providers who support people on the spectrum. Therefore, we publish a monthly email newsletter with useful tips, news, and resources for the autism community. The April 2020 Newsletter will offer tips to better handle living with neurodiversity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Visit Our Autism Resource Page
We will be regularly updating our Resource Page, our Facebook page, and our LinkedIn Page. A group of autism therapists will provide up-to-date tips and support to people with autism and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online Therapy Groups Offered at Open Doors Therapy for Neurodiverse Teens and Young Adults
Open Doors Therapy is committed to respecting the guidelines issued by our state and the federal government regarding sheltering in place. Therefore, we are currently offering all our social skills groups online. We want to provide our clients with the same level of care and support they have grown accustomed to while staying healthy in our homes.
Our Online Therapy Groups Include:
The Gifted Teen with Autism Group and Caregiver Group:
The Gifted Teen with Autism and Caregiver Group provides a supportive environment where you and your teen can separate from each other and meet other people who share similar challenges.
Our College Group includes high-functioning students with autistic traits who attend a college or a university in the South Bay Area. Our College Group discusses the unique challenges neurodiverse students may face in school.
Young Adults Group:
Our Young Adults Group provides you with a safe place to learn what it means to be a millennial with autistic traits.
Working Professionals Group:
During the Working Professional’s Group, we talk about common struggles neurodiverse professionals may have. The social skills we discuss help autistic professionals cope with stress at work and in their personal lives.
If you’re unsure which group would be a good fit for you, please contact our autism therapy clinic.
Join an Autism Social Skills Group for Neurodiverse Adults in Palo Alto, CA:
We understand that the COVID-19 health crisis is a scary and challenging time for our country, especially if you’re living with ASD. Open Doors Therapy is here to support you or your loved one. To begin online group therapy in California, please follow these three steps:
- Schedule a free 30-minute consultation appointment. During this video call, we will help you to find a group that will best meet your unique needs during COVID-19.
- Like me on Facebook. This will help you stay up-to-date on Open Doors Therapy and our autism therapy services.
- Sign up to receive my newsletter. This contains useful information regarding living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Other Services for the Neurodiverse at Open Doors Therapy:
Our South Bay Area autism therapy clinic serves high-functioning adults and teens with autism. This includes people who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families.
Our counseling clinic offers a variety of autism counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, and parent counseling. Also, our we offer several different social skills groups online for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, a mothers group, and an online parent support group. Please call or email our South Bay Area counseling office for more information on how we can best serve you.
About the Author:
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. And, she is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.