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  • Writer's pictureAlana Lenart

Autism- Putting Your Child First. Is this really helping them?

I get it, you see your child struggling and you want to do anything and everything you can to help them. Speech therapy, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Behavioural Therapy, Music Therapy... but what if the best therapy didn't involve them? What if the best therapy is your own?

Help yourself before helping others- airline safety announcement.

If you have travelled on a plane in the last 40 years or so you would have almost certainly heard 'put your oxygen mask on before helping others' during the preflight safety announcement. As a parent is seems counterintuitive. Why would you not help your child first? Not doing so would be selfish and dangerous. The logic to this is that if you spend precious time helping someone else with their mask you may not be able to put one on yourself.

When you're so focussed on your child you forget about yourself.

This was me. Hyper-focussed on doing whatever I possibly could to help my son without paying any attention to what I was feeling. Autopilot. I remember telling myself frequently 'If I can just get him to sleep all night everything will be fine' 'If I can find him the right speech therapist he'll start communicating more easily and everything will be fine' 'If I just avoid all the things that trigger him we will be fine'. I was putting the responsibility of ME being fine onto my son. Yes, I wanted him to be fine too and at ease in his world but it was never his responsibility to participate in therapy to make my life easier. Parenting isn't like that.

Getting the help you need so you can help your child

I was able to get the help I needed for my anxiety and postnatal depression. I worked with a psychiatrist for years. I still pop in and see her occasionally. She taught me how to look after myself first. This was a hard thing for me to grasp and implement. My whole life I had taken care of people and done what others wanted or needed me to do. Consistently at the expense of my own health and happiness. I thought that this was what being a caring woman was all about. In learning to take care of myself, which extended well beyond beach walks and long baths, I discovered that me be mentally well was the number one most important factor in my sons development. All the therapy under the sun wouldn't help if I wasn't able to be present with him and engage with him. He was having 3 hours of therapy a week and the rest of the time he was with me. I had to be ok because he needed me to be.

Better outcomes for your autistic child

A 2018 Critical Interpretive Review of relevant studies conducted by the University of North Texas showed the outcomes for children with ASD improved once the parent's mental health improved and they felt they could cope better. Parents who received support from other parental carers were more likely to be able to manage the stressors that came from daily life caring for their autistic child. Help yourself first so you can best help your child. The time, energy and money invested into your child's therapy will reap greater gains for your child.

Prepare for the journey

Having an autistic child is a lifelong journey. If you're starting out on this road, or well along it, I encourage you to seek support for your mental health and wellbeing. It's a journey of twists, turns and sometimes bumps but it's also beautiful, joyful and spectacular. I can help you be the parent your child needs you to be.

With love,

Alana x

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