In my efforts as a counselor, helping couples and individuals raise children with autism, I’ve combined what I learned in school with what I’ve learned in my own journey. My last blog talked about that gravitational pull autism has on a family. I’d like to address a few ways we can limit that pull from affecting every aspect of our lives negatively. These are not quick fixes, and you won’t find a step-by-step guide here. It’s a process that requires daily practice, much like yoga. There is no end point, and you will not have “arrived”; it’s ongoing. I like to call it living mindfully and with intention. Mindfulness simply means that you’re paying attention to or are aware of what you’re doing, thinking, saying, and believing. Living with intention means you’re not just going through the motions of life, allowing autism or any other problem to control you. You are purposefully making decisions that lead to the goals you set in your life.
Acknowledge what you can and cannot control
Often in life, and especially in the land of autism, we try desperately to control the things we cannot and don’t have the skills to control what we can. The key is acknowledging that there is only one thing you can actually control, and that’s YOU—your decisions, your behaviors, and your thoughts. Then there are other things that we can influence, like our children, our co-workers, and our loved ones. Notice I said “influence.” We can’t actually control children or spouses. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) And when we try to, the results are stress, worry, and unhappiness. We also cannot control autism. (Tried that too, and got the t-shirt.) We can influence how it affects our children, but it will still have control when it wants to. We just don’t have to allow it to define our families.
Identify your choices
John and Mary, the couple whom I described in the previous blog, were unaware of the fact that they had choices. Autism can have such an overbearing hold on a family that you begin to feel as though you don’t have choices. “I HAVE to take my kid to speech or he won’t learn to talk!” “I HAVE to work late so I can pay for ABA therapy!” “I HAVE to hold a grudge against my husband because he just doesn’t understand what I do all day.” I’ve heard these statements in my office and have even made them myself. Taking the time to identify your family’s goals and being mindful of the choices you’re making can help you make decisions that will benefit the whole family. If your marriage is in trouble and you’re not doing anything to remedy it, you’re still making a choice. You’re choosing to do nothing. You can skip a few weeks of a therapy for your kid so that you can reconnect with your spouse in marriage counseling. Your child will be okay. Really.
When my son was newly diagnosed, I ran ragged from one therapy to the next, supervised an in-home play-therapy program, and made gluten-free bread from scratch. In my “spare time” (which was usually at 3 am), I enrolled in the university of Google and looked for anything I could find about how to help my son. Was that wrong? I don’t think so. But I failed to see the impact it was having on my health and on my marriage. When my marriage was in trouble and I found myself with major depression, I had no choice but to learn how to care for myself through counseling. One of the things I learned during that time was that it was okay to take care of myself. Not only was it okay, it was required. The next thing I learned was that the marriage needed to come first. If you’re a single parent, YOU need to come first. It’s a top-down effect, rather than a “planets spinning around the son/child” effect. Put your oxygen mask on first, and remember to take the time to breathe.
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