Welcome back to our blog series for autism parents who are sheltering in place with their neurodiverse child or young adult.
As autism experts, we wrote this blog series to highlight the shared struggles that parents are experiencing during the pandemic and to provide support.
In Part 1 of this blog series, we discussed the mixed emotions you may be facing from supporting your autistic child during this pandemic. And, we want to normalize your parenting experiences. We talked about the importance of opening yourself up to more self-compassion in order to parent your autistic child at this time.
In this blog, we will offer tips to help you support your child’s mental health and wellbeing. We want to help you help them continue to adjust to their new normal of being home. We will also provide strategies to help you as an autism parent stay centered and resilient. This will help you have the energy to care for your child with autism during this pandemic.
Coping Strategies for Parents of a Child with Autism
Listen and Validate Your Autistic Child’s Feelings
One of the most powerful things you can do during this time of uncertainty and stress is to listen to your child with autism and validate their feelings. Accept how they feel without jumping in with a solution right away. They might be catastrophizing, or thinking of the worst-case scenario. So, give them space to share these feelings. Let them explore their worries with you in a non-judgmental space. Let your child on the spectrum know you heard their fears, and then reassure them.
Normalize Your Neurodiverse Child’s Feelings and Concerns
Let your child know that they are not the only ones afraid during this time. Across the globe, we are facing this crisis together. The stress and fear caused by the pandemic is a collective experience. Reminding them of this will normalize their feelings, reduce feelings of isolation, and possibly bring a sense of relief.
Help Your Child on the Autism Spectrum Set Healthy Boundaries
It is natural for humans to want space from family at times, especially while sheltering in place. Neurodivergent individuals tend to need even more alone time. This helps them decompress. For a teen or young adult with autism, being stuck in a home with their parent(s) 24/7 can lead them to want to revolt. Teens and young adults are already going through the differentiation process. They are trying to assert their own identity and independence from their parents. Ultimately, this differentiation process can naturally lead to conflict. So, being forced to remain in close quarters due to sheltering-in-place orders, can increase conflict between autistic children and their parents.
Having a conversation with your child about wanting to respect their need for space can be very helpful. Really listening to your child’s needs is the first step. Come up with code words or behaviors that indicate a need for “social breaks.” For example, simply saying, “I need me time”, could be a good phrase to use when they need their space. But, you can have some thoughts about what that looks like. For instance, it might mean a half-hour break playing video games. If needed, you might add more limits, such as being able to use the code three times a day, no questions asked.
Most importantly, as a parent, you need to respect your child’s space and quiet time. Your child with autism needs to be able to trust that their social breaks will be allowed to happen and not be interrupted. When you prove to them that you will respect this boundary, your child can let down their guard. Hopefully, they will be able to use this social break to decompress.
Parents: Set Healthy Boundaries for Yourself
As a parent, you may be feeling overwhelmed by constant interaction in your home. So, you might forget to take time for yourself. Setting boundaries around your own need for space will help you stay balanced. Plus, you will also be modeling healthy boundaries for your child.
As a parent, setting boundaries around your own news consumption is crucial. The constant barrage of COVID-19 related news would get anyone down. To keep ourselves afloat, we need to balance the news with a variety of positive activities.
Build Positivity in Your Relationship With Your Child with Autism
As the stress of sheltering in place builds up for you and your child, both of you can feel moody, irritable, and down. But, doing shared activities with your child can be a wonderful way to stay positive during this stressful time. For example, you might try to learn their favorite video game, play charades, or do a jigsaw puzzle together. When you take time to engage in the shared activity, try to be present in the moment. Laugh! See this as a special time.
There are many things you can do for yourself and your child to improve your mood. In fact, there are feel-good hormones you can activate to improve your mood and strengthen your immune system. These natural mood-booster hormones include dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. In a olderr blog, strategies to increase these feel-good hormones were recommended. You can increase oxytocin by doing things that help you feel good. For example, you could cuddle with your beloved pet or watch comedies and read memes, comics, and funny articles.
Self-Compassion for Yourself is Important for Autism Parents
As the days wear on, you might find yourself feeling like you have a short fuse. Your child’s words and behaviors may trigger you more easily. You are in close quarters. Emotions can run high. You may notice you are taking your child’s rude comments or criticisms personally.
Self-compassion can be your saving grace. By providing yourself with loving-kindness, you feel more at ease. Self-compassion increases your resiliency and helps your ship stay even keel. Even as you navigate these waters with your child. Plus, as your well of self-compassion grows, so does your compassion for your child.
You might find it difficult to think of ways to show yourself compassion. Check out our Resource Page to learn more about apps that offer self-compassion guided meditations.
Support Your Child in Accepting New Rules
Your child with autism may rigidly adhere to rules. With the suddenness of sheltering-in-place orders, it seems like overnight the rules have changed. So, your child may need space to talk about how this is unfair. They may need to grieve the loss of familiar rules before they can adopt new ones. Again, listening and validating their feelings is key to their processing this loss. Being heard will help them feel more emotionally ready to accept new rules and structures.
Create and Maintain New Structure for Your Neurodiverse Child
You and your child may be uncertain about the devastation of the pandemic and when sheltering in place will end. We have more questions than we do answers. We are all living with a bunch of unknowns. But, creating predictability in their routine can help reduce anxiety and fears of the unknown.
Additional Resources for Autism Parents
There are a number of excellent resources out there that can provide support for you and your child with autism during the pandemic. Here is a list of supports we have gathered together for you:
- List of mental health and educational resources to support parents and individuals with autism during COVID-19
- COVID-19 Toolkit: 7 Strategies to support individuals with autism during uncertain times
- Join an online autism parent support group
- Parent Strategies to emotionally support your child during the coronavirus pandemic
- Online learning support for teens and adults with autism
- Stanford Neurodiversity Project Seminar: Managing stress and anxiety during a global pandemic (Start video presentation at 9 mins and 25 seconds)
- Managing screen time and bedtime
- Legal planning and special needs trusts
Join our Free "Online Autism Parents Support Group"
To Learn More Strategies for Coping with Stress Around Parenting a Child with Autism During COVID-19
During the Coronavirus 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 intensify pre-existing issues, 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 provide a supportive and non-judgmental place for you to explore your feelings. You will also be given the opportunity to learn new communication strategies to keep the peace in your home.
Autism groups for parents will be facilitated by Dr. Tasha Oswald, a licensed psychologist in California and an autism expert. She has created a highly specialized autism program and is offering this support group online to autism parents or caregivers. The group is available to parents who live in California. In our telemental health sessions, you will be given tools to create positive interactions with your child. Additionally, you will learn positive communication strategies to use with your autistic child. 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. We are offering this support group for free of charge 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, I am publishing 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.
Begin Online Autism Therapy for Neurodiverse Adults and Teens in California:
If you're looking for support for you or your teen or young adult with autism in California. We would be happy to help. Open Doors therapy is offering online autism therapy in California, so even if you can't make it to our Palo Alto, CA autism therapy clinic, you can still receive mental health support. To begin group therapy, please follow these steps:
- Schedule a free 30-minute consultation. At this time we can discuss your needs and determine what group would help you meet them.
- Like Open Doors Therapy on Facebook. 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 San Fransisco Bay Area 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 counseling 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. Additionally, 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 contact our autism therapy clinic 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.