Caring for a child or an adult with special needs is a huge responsibility. We hear the term “self-care” a lot. When it comes to being a caregiver of an individual with autism, self-care often doesn’t happen.
I remember a special education evaluator at my son’s preschool telling me to take time for myself and the social workers teaching parents in a workshop about meditation and mindfulness exercises. Caregivers often ignore the vital need for Self-care in their lives
I knew that self-care went by the wayside the minute I gave birth to James. He came first, and that was the reality and the reality that I wanted. Nothing gave me or gives me more happiness than to see my child healthy, happy, and thriving. The pandemic put the need for self-care in a new light. During lockdown, gyms closed their doors, free time disappeared, doctors weren’t seeing patients for elective surgeries or preventative care
Once the numbers became low in our area and offices started opening, I realized I wasn’t addressing the preventative visits that were past due. I then discovered how much I had been neglecting my own health. As a caregiver, and the added stress of the pandemic certainly didn’t help. Besides catching up on medical care, I neglected other areas. James doesn’t sleep well, so it’s a given I never sleep well. The self-care I used to enjoy, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, taking time to pick out clothes and get ready for the day were no longer part of my routine. I knew I needed to make my own health and well-being part of my list of priorities.y
I started by making time for some outdoor exercise. The gym in my building was no longer a safe option, and exercising in my home required significant motivation and no interruption. Going for a walk and getting my heart rate up helped me to feel better and reduce stress. I then started carving out 10 minutes for myself while James played in the morning to do my own morning routine. The lower back pain I was now suffering from lifting James, who was now 50lbs, couldn’t be ignored. I started to incorporate 5 minutes of stretching in the morning and in the evenings.
A few days ago, a close mom friend asked if I wanted to join a virtual book club she started. I excitedly said, “yes!”, even though I wondered how I would fit reading a leisure book into my schedule. I’ve always been an avid reader, adopting a love for books since I was a young child, one of my favorite activities had all but disappeared, other than the books I read about child development, autism and sensory processing. A caregiver needs to care for oneself not just for others. I vowed to find time for this and find time for me. Self-care isn’t selfish “Me-time” for moms and caregivers of autistic individuals. it’s essential for us and critical to the loved ones we care for so devotedly.bb