Balancing Parental Responsibilities While Sheltering in Place with Your Child with Autism or Young Adult with Autism
Parent and Teacher for your Child with Autism
On top of caring for your child 24/7, you now might be wearing a new hat: taking on the role of teacher or teacher’s aide for your child. Now, you have to schedule zoom meetings, keep track of homework, upload their school work, make sure they are paying attention and engaging in online learning, and much more. In addition to managing these complex logistics, you might be managing your child’s behaviors. Including, their frustration and lack of motivation. When 5 o’clock rolls around, you have no time to take a break and instead start on cooking and cleaning.
Cooking and Cleaning for Your Entire Family
Parenting a child on the autism spectrum can be a demanding job. This job may feel all-consuming at times, even before the pandemic. But, now you are cooking more, meaning more dishes and more messes. You find yourself spending more time and effort trying to keep the house clean. It might even feel like a losing battle at times. Plus, your child may be a very picky eater, which creates unique challenges. Your supplies of their favorite foods might be limited right now, making it even more difficult to accommodate their needs. This could result in autistic meltdowns. Managing the household and your child’s behavior can leave you feeling worn out!
The War Over Screen Time: Parent vs. Autistic Child
As a parent, you might find yourself in a battle with your child over screen time. This might have been a war that was already waged before the COVID-19 crisis struck. But, due to sheltering in place and social distancing, your child is likely to lean even more on technology. They're trying to reduce boredom and meet their needs for social attention. However, the constant arguments may leave you feeling fed up with trying to monitor their screen use and video-gaming.
Fears, Anxiety, and Anger as an Autism Parent
Parental Fears Around Mortality as an Autism Parent
Listening to the news and watching the Coronavirus mortality rates rise may lead you to worry about your own mortality. This brings up concerns regarding what would happen to your child without you. On top of these fears, there may be additional fears around the safety of your elderly parents or other loved ones. When these thoughts enter your mind, it can be a jolt to your nervous system. Therefore increasing your heart rate and breathing, and triggering anxiety and dread. Often, these existential fears have urged many parents to create a will or trust for their child.
You and Your Child with Autism Face Lots of Anxiety from Uncertainty
Your child’s own anxiety might have been triggered by the change to their routine due to the suddenness of the shelter-in-place order. From your child’s perspective, and even from your perspective, it may seem like there was little notice before your daily routine was turned upside down. There was not much time to adapt to this transition. In the end, it feels like the rug was pulled out from under both of you.
Now, we're all living in a state of uncertainty. The stress that comes from uncertainty can take a toll on your child with autism, as well as on you. Your sleep or appetite might be disturbed, you might have more tension or headaches, you might feel exhausted, and it could even be hard for you to get out of bed in the morning.
Worrying Takes a Toll on Both You and Your Neurodiverse Child
Additionally, your autistic child might already have a tendency to worry about the worst-case scenario (“catastrophize”). The pandemic could be triggering constant fears for your child. Their thinking might be stuck in a loop, focusing on their fears and the unknown. This can be particularly challenging for you as a parent. It takes a great deal of energy for you to try to remain balanced, while also trying to help your child process their worries in a healthy way.
Honestly, people across the world have been worrying about many factors they cannot control. It can be emotionally taxing to try to keep your head above water while being overwhelmed by your fears and your child's anxiety.
Your Autistic Child's Irritability and Angry Outbursts
You might notice that your son or daughter with autism is feeling restless and irritable. They may be wanting to get out of the house. They may be frustrated by online learning. Therefore, as their irritation and frustration build, they may have more angry outbursts or meltdowns. Additionally, if your child has cognitive impairments, they may not fully understand why they have to shelter in place. This can increase their feelings of frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed.
You are working so hard to help your family, and you may not get a "thanks" in return. Even worse, you may actually just receive criticism from your child and others. The lack of empathy and help from your child with autism can be painful. Also, your child might resist and argue with you around household chores, screen time, going to bed on time, and doing and completing homework. As a parent, it can be exhausting, aggravating, and demoralizing to provide 24/7 childcare and feel like you are the target of your child’s pent-up frustration and anger.
Self-Compassion and Support for Autism Parents
As a parent, your plate was full before the pandemic hit. During these extraordinary times, the demands placed on you have been extraordinary. You are now serving the role of a teacher, on top of extra household demands, soothing your child when they are escalating, and managing their anxiety and your own during the pandemic. Furthermore, you may even be caring for additional children and loved ones or working remotely.
We understand and applaud your heroic efforts. It might be difficult for you to accept this praise. You might downplay your hard work, or criticize yourself and say you should be doing better or more.
If you take a moment to breathe and reflect, you may open up some space inside to notice how exceptionally challenging your circumstances are. Just allowing some room to acknowledge that, may help your heart open up. This will allow you to appreciate your efforts.
Ultimately, opening your heart up to self-compassion can help you stay balanced and centered during these tumultuous times.
Autism Parent Tips for Coping with Coronavirus Changes
We know you are busy and probably overwhelmed. Here is a simple yet quick strategy for you:
- Every day, take 10 really deep breaths.
- Then notice one way in which this situation is challenging for you. Close your eyes. Notice in your body any sensations, such as tension, heaviness, numbness, or pain. An image or words may also come to your mind. Allow yourself to think about, without judgment, how difficult this situation is.
- Asking for an open heart, say words of kindness to yourself. These words do not judge you. They hold you in a loving and caring way.
We are in this together. Know that we are holding you in our hearts during this trying time.
Join our Free "Online Autism Parent Support Group"
Learn 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. During our meetings, 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 support you. We are offering this support group for free to families during this pandemic.
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.
Begin Online Autism Therapy for Neurodiverse Adults and Teens in California:
If you think online autism therapy might be a good fit for your autistic child, please reach out to us. We can help provide support and help your child learn valuable social skills even when they can't make it into our Palo Alto, CA autism therapy clinic. To begin group therapy, please follow these steps:
- Schedule a free 30-minute video consultation. During this call, we will help you to find an online group that will best meet your unique needs.
- Like Open Doors Therapy on Facebook. This will help you stay up-to-date on our autism therapy services and the groups we're offering.
- Sign up to receive my newsletter. This contains helpful information regarding living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Other Services for the Neurodiverse at Open Doors Therapy:
Our Palo Alto autism counseling clinic serves high-functioning neurodiverse adults and teens. This includes high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families.
Our autism therapy clinic offers a variety of services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. We are currently providing individual autism therapy online. Also, our we are offering 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, teens & caregivers, 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 during the Coronavirus pandemic.
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.