As we move into this season that places emphasis on gratitude and thankfulness, it can feel increasingly difficult to identify what we are grateful for given the ways of the world. Within the past few years, especially, it has been a time of increased stress, financial strain and even significant loss for many. We recognize that. But now more than ever it is important to stop to consider what you have to be grateful for. Whether it’s your health, your friends and family, career, your home, or something else, we hope you can identify at least one thing. So even with all the uncertainty in our world, we want to share this important information on the benefits of gratitude.
The Benefits of Gratitude
The effects of practicing gratitude have been studied for roughly 15 years. As detailed below, practicing gratitude can directly impact our stress levels. One of our core beliefs here at Healing Haven is the importance of stress management for parents and caregivers, as well as for our staff. Whether you write thank you notes, keep a gratitude journal, or give a verbal expression of thankfulness to someone, you will experience many benefits both physically and mentally. And the practice of gratitude can have long term benefits throughout the year.
Many research studies show that having an attitude of gratitude helps individuals have a better quality of sleep. People experience falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. So, if quality sleep is a struggle, try writing down specific things you are grateful for. Taking a few minutes to do this before bed can have a positive impact on your sleep.
Research reveals that people who practice gratitude are better able to manage the stressors that come in life. It could be that getting more sleep helps you handle stress better. Or it could be the dopamine that is released in your brain when you express thankfulness.
In our line of work with individuals with autism and their families, we know how hard it can seem to be thankful due to the many areas of life that are made more challenging with an autism diagnosis. However, if you’re able to recognize and be thankful for the little things, you’ll experience the impact of a grateful mindset.
There are specific gratitude exercises that can help ease depression. Experiments asking people to take part in an exercise to list three good moments or things at the end of each day reveal improvements in depression and overall happiness. Gratitude can reduce numerous toxic emotions like envy, resentment, regret, frustration and more, leading to an improved outlook on life.
Researchers asked people how likely they were to participate in healthy behaviors like going to the doctor, exercise and healthy eating. They also asked them to rate their levels of gratitude. As reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found correlations between healthy behaviors and gratitude, suggesting that expressing thanks has a connection with people taking care of their bodies.
Additionally, self-esteem studies reveal that gratitude can strengthen self-esteem by reducing social comparisons. A contributing factor in low self-esteem is being resentful toward others who have more money or better jobs. Those who practice gratitude regularly can more easily appreciate other people’s accomplishments, while simultaneously having security in their own self-worth, as opposed to those who don’t practice gratitude.
There are so many benefits to having a grateful way of life that we can’t possibly list them here. This article on HelpGuide.org does a great job of listing and explaining the many benefits of gratitude!
Incorporating Gratitude Into Your Life
Are you realizing you need to practice more gratitude in your life? If you’re looking for easy ways to get started, we’ve got you covered with these tips:
Start and end your day with it. Say out loud one thing you’re grateful for in the morning and one thing right before you go to sleep.
Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal – note one or more things you’re grateful for on a daily basis and write down your positive thoughts throughout the day.
Switch it up. If you become aware of the negative of something or someone, switch it in your brain to a positive.
Share it with others. Give at least one compliment or “thank you” daily. This can either be directly to someone or simply about your surroundings (I love how quiet the office is today.) And if you thank a coworker for a job well done, it may spread to others to recognize great work.
Spare us the drama. Commit to not complaining, criticizing or gossiping for one week. This exercise may help you to realize how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts.
We hope these ideas help spark more gratitude in your life. But if you find yourself still struggling, please reach out for help! The numbers of people experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress is on a constant increase due to what’s happening in our world. Don’t go through this alone. We always have qualified counselors on staff that may be able to help you. Alternatively, consider reaching out to a friend for support. Remember – it’s OK to ask for help!
The holiday season can be full of wonderful activities, parties and family gatherings. But there is also an added level of stress during the holidays because of the extra “hustle and bustle”. Shopping, baking, decorating, wrapping and hosting – how much can we add to our plates? And when you are also parenting a child with autism or other special needs, the demands of the holidays can become overwhelming. With input from our Counselors on staff, we’ve compiled some holiday stress management tips to help you enjoy this season.
Holiday Stress Management Tips
Something that may seem obvious is the ability to accept your child as they are and be flexible for their needs. These can be huge drivers to reducing your overall stress. Mentally prepare yourself that during this busy season your child may engage in more self-soothing behaviors to cope with the changes in their routine and added stress. They also may not want to interact with all the extra family and friends that you see this time of year. Giving your child some control and choices may help as well. You can offer controlled choices about the time they go and leave from gatherings, if they want to go somewhere or where some decorations should go.
Also look at your own expectations around the holidays and try to be more flexible. Realize that it’s OK that your child may not feel the same way about the holidays as other kids. Your child may not like the traditional holiday activities, so stop and ask yourself the motivation behind doing something (like taking a picture with Santa). If the motivation is that it’s a “childhood tradition”, it’s not worth having your child stress out, panic or go into a full meltdown getting near Santa. And develop a mindset of being flexible. If you have to make a last minute change because your child becomes over stimulated, that’s not only supporting your child and their needs, but also a self-care practice for you!
3. Set Boundaries
You know your child and how and where they are at their best. If your entire family is gathering at Grandma’s house there are ways you can still participate. Plan to stay for an hour so that you leave before your child reaches their sensory maximum. It may be helpful to communicate ahead of time the boundaries you are setting with your family members to avoid any misunderstanding. And thanking them for understanding the choices you need to make will help them to feel appreciated for being flexible.
You could also plan to arrive to gatherings early in order to allow your child to slowly acclimate to the number of people showing up in real-time, which could help make them feel less overwhelmed.
4. Say No
With so many invitations, activities and options presented to us during the holidays, we can end up finding ourselves in situations that may take away from the enjoyment. Furthermore, saying yes to an event when you actually want to say no can lead to feeling overwhelmed and also experiencing resentment. If you know your child will not do well at someone’s house, you can kindly decline an invitation. Remember, all you need to say is “I am sorry, we cannot make it – thank you for the invitation.” You do not need to give a reason or explain why you cannot make it to the event. It can be so hard to say no, but if it will reduce the stress in your life, you need to do it for your own sanity.
5. Pace It Out
Decorating your home for Christmas can be fun for some, but sensory overload for others. If you gradually get your decorations out, your child can acclimate to the new lights, smells and sounds slowly. Progressively introducing new decor into the living areas of the house allows your child to gradually adapt to the environment. Otherwise you risk overloading them with the changes all at one time.
It may also be useful to take time to familiarize your child with the destination or venue of any gathering as well as the guests that will be attending. This can be done through photos or preparing a photo album they can hold and refer to during the event, as well as reviewing it beforehand. This can help reduce the chance of surprises and help them feel comfortable in knowing the environment and people they will see.
6. Find Balance
An important holiday stress management tip is to work in some quiet, soothing activities with your kids to help them balance all the additional sensory input that comes during this time of year. And those quiet moments can benefit you too. Furthermore, find balance in the ability to indulge in the yummy treats of the season without feeling guilty. It is common for healthy eating habits to take a backseat this time of year. But if you can balance out the sweets indulgence by increasing your water intake each day, you may feel more positive about enjoying the holiday treats.
It’s also important to make sure to set some time aside to indulge in self-care activities that help you relax, have fun, or feel energized. These activities could include talking with a friend, going for a walk, reading, listening to music, or whatever else you enjoy. The important part of self-care is not so much what you do – it’s just that you do it.
7. Keep Structure
You and your child have schedules – daily, nightly, weekly routines. Keep as many things consistent as possible. For example, if you have self-care activities such as attending a work out class or getting your nails done, keep that commitment even during the busyness of the holidays. If your child has a nightly routine of taking a bath before bed, leave the holiday event with enough time to allow your kiddo to complete their routine. Keeping your typical agendas will set you and your family up for success during this often hectic time. And if a change in your child’s routine is unavoidable, creating a holiday visual schedule can help them prepare and process what is coming. Here’s another great resource for holiday social stories and visual schedules.
8. Avoid Perfectionism
So many caregivers are perfectionists by nature and the holidays can intensify the desire for things to be “just right.” Though this may be difficult, try and focus on the big picture of the holiday season by avoiding getting caught up in the little details. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect, write it down or say it out loud “things do not need to be perfect this holiday season!”
9. Consider Dietary Restrictions
As you likely already know, autistic individuals are more likely to have dietary restrictions than others. This is something to be aware and mindful of, as well as make known to others so that your child isn’t excluded in that sense. Even if there are no dietary restrictions, having preferred food items around for your child can be helpful and effective in helping them remain calm and comfortable in stressful situations. With this said, also be mindful of extreme amounts of sugar available and accessible, as this could also heighten stress and anxiety during the holidays.
This is a small one and may seem somewhat of a cliché, but getting enough sleep is so important for stress management especially around the holidays. With all of the things we have to get done during the holidays, sleep often gets neglected. But we also know that lack of sleep makes most people more vulnerable to irritability, mood changes, etc. Protect your time to sleep by prioritizing what needs to get done today verses what can wait until tomorrow so that you aren’t sacrificing sleep to get things done. Also do your best to ensure that your child gets enough sleep as well, as this can make a huge difference in their energy and behavior.
Some of these holiday stress management tips may seem easier said than done. But we hope that you find at least a few of them helpful and easy to incorporate into your holiday season. Even if it’s just hearing that you CAN say no and set boundaries. Doing so just may lead to a less stressful and more enjoyable season!
And if you find your stress level increasing into the new year, our Counseling program helps parents of kids with autism, as well as children and teens on the spectrum. Contact us for more info.
If you found these holiday stress management tips helpful, please share it with others!
Raising a child with autism brings surprises and challenges. One possible difficulty is managing meltdowns. While every child has rough moments, for a child on the spectrum meltdowns are different. They often happen when the child is overstimulated and cannot communicate why they are upset. A valuable way to cope when meltdowns occur is to learn ways to calm a child with autism. Through detailed preparation, you and your child will feel more equipped to handle big emotions the next time they experience distress.
Meltdowns may occur out of the blue or perhaps they come after a specific trigger. This can be very stressful for not only the child but parents and other family members as well. However, certain displays of behavior can cue parents to when their child might be on the verge of a meltdown. Some of these behaviors may include:
Increased stimming- agitated hand flapping, body rocking, pacing, hands over ears
Eloping – running away from a situation
Self-injurious behavior (SIB)- banging head, picking at skin, hitting or biting self
Perhaps it is a certain location, a noise, or denied access to something that set off your child. Keeping a log of triggers can help prepare you for future incidents and allows you to be proactive in recognizing and coping with meltdowns. And in the meantime, try some of the following six ways to calm a child with autism when they are in distress.
Addressing Sensory Needs
Children with autism often have many more sensory needs than an average neurotypical person. Deep pressure stimulation such as gentle head or shoulder squeezes can help kids feel secure and move their nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system, also called“rest and digest.” When we are in the parasympathetic nervous system, our bodies feel safe and secure which in turn calms our minds.
Additionally, learn what objects or toys are soothing to your child and have them on hand. Keep a bag of sensory objects with your child that they can utilize when they are feeling overwhelmed. Fidget spinners, blankets, squishy toys, or chew toys can bring comfort to an overstimulated nervous system.
A sensory friendly “calm down corner” can also help quell meltdowns. At home, designate a safe area for your child that includes soft lighting, calming music or white noise, and comfortable items such as bean bags or pillows. If your child attends school, coordinate with teachers to create a calm down corner in the classroom. If you’re in public during an episode, remove your child from the triggering environment as soon as you can and take them to a neutral location.
The Power of Music
Music can be very therapeutic to individuals with autism. Music increases brain connectivitywhich in turn helps regulate emotions. Additionally, singing a favorite song of your child’s may help them relax, as familiarity can be grounding. Try softly singing or playing soothing quiet tunes on headphones to help your child self-regulate.
Breathing is very powerful in calming the mind and body and can assist in regulating emotions for a child with autism. Sit face-to-face with your child and have them breathe deeply with you. Counting inhales and exhales as they breathe is a helpful technique. The exhale places the body back into the parasympathetic nervous system so make sure your child is releasing all the air. Breathing togetherwill also help you feel more calm during a meltdown.
Moving and fresh air help all of us feel better and is another great strategy to calm a child with autism. Walk with your child around the block, visit a nearby park, or put on a kids yoga video to help them center.
Stick to Schedules
Sometimes unpredictability triggers a meltdown. Pre-planned agendas can provide comfort to children with autism so they know what’s coming next, reducing anxiety. You can even create visual schedulesfor your child to reference throughout the day, which can help them stay on task. There will obviously be times when the schedule needs to change last minute, but try to give your child as much notice as possible.
Avoid Reinforcing Behavior
It’s natural to become worked up and overwhelmed watching your child experience such high levels of distress. But it’s important to avoid displaying strong emotions in front of your child in the heat of the moment in order to avoid reinforcing their behaviors. Remain as calm as you can and focus on deescalating your child through whichever method they respond best to. But be sure to make space to process your own emotions after the episode so you can regulate as well.
We hope these six ways to calm a child with autism will help you and your child the next time a meltdown arises. Know that you are not alone and that it is ok to feel overwhelmed. Our parent training resources include strategies in addressing specific meltdown situations. For more info, visit our ABA Parent Training page.
As the Coronavirus global pandemic continues to be a major crisis, we all are in uncharted territory in our lives and our country. The stay at home orders continue and schools are closed through the end of the school year here in Michigan. The unknowns can be very stressful, where do we even begin to manage this stress? In addition, taking on new responsibilities of becoming teachers to our kids, managing the complete shake up routines, some have lost jobs and income – these are all incredible stressors. We are navigating being in close quarters with the same people day after day, as well as the fear of getting this novel virus. Social distancing also causes us to miss out on important socialization and support of our community. And on top of all of this, families of kids with autism and other special needs have additional unique stressors to manage!
So where do you even begin to manage your own stress so that you can be a more effective and present parent and partner to your family? Let’s first start with understanding how stress impacts our bodies and what it can look like so you can identify it. Then we’ll look at our perspective in stressful situations and how we can direct it. And then finally we’ll provide a variety of tools and techniques to help you manage your stress.
Stress and Our Bodies
Our bodies were designed to engage in the stress response for life-threatening situations – fight, flight or freeze response. Think lions in the brush. So, even when the stressor is not life-threatening, our bodies react inside like it is. Hormones in our bodies lead us to the fight, flight or freeze response. When our stress response kicks in, our behaviors and thinking patterns becomes less flexible. Also, chronic stress breaks down the body leading to a weakened immune system and an increased likelihood of disease.
What Stress Might Look Like
Trouble thinking clearly
Short attention span
Anxious or racing throughs
Tightness in muscles
Aches and pains
Headaches, trembling, sweating
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
Loss of appetite
Lack of sleep, nightmares
Easily upset or hurt
Irritability or short temper
Agitation, unable to relax or keep still
Sense of loneliness and isolation
Depression or general unhappiness
Eating more or less
Sleeping too much or too little
Isolating yourself from others
Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
Nervous habits like nail biting, pacing, etc.
5 Myths About Stress
The following are some common misconceptions regarding stress:
Myth: In an ideal world, there would be no stress. Truth: A little stress is natural and healthy and can help motivate us.
Myth: What is stressful to me is stressful to you. Truth: Perspective, culture & personal history play a role.
Myth: Only unpleasant situations are stressful. Truth: New job, new home & a new love can all be positive AND stressful.
Myth: No symptoms, no stress. Truth: Symptoms are a warning sign but might not be present or you might not be tuned into symptoms.
Myth: Stress is inevitable, so you can’t do anything about it. Truth: Techniques can be learned to prevent some stress & be less impacted by stress that you can’t control.
Perspective Is Key
Our perspective of the situation we are in is KEY. Worrying about things we cannot control is not only fruitless but can be self-destructive. There are certain behavioral patterns associated with interpreting events less stressfully:
Viewing potentially stressful events as interesting and meaningful
Considering change as normal and an opportunity for growth
Believing oneself as capable of having influence on some events
You Have a Choice in How Your Respond to Stressful Situations
In most situations, stress begins with a thought. We may not be able to control the event, but we can control our response to the event. Our choice is to respond with curiosity, interest, and an open-mind (solution-orientated) or to respond with a closed mind, negative, dismissive & hopeless.
More effective ways to respond to a stressful situation include:
Gratitude: “I appreciate….”, “I am thankful for…”
Acceptance: “It’s ok….”, “I can go with the flow…”
Discovery: “I wonder…”, “What can I learn from this?”
Observation: “I am noticing….”
Identifying and Understanding Your Values
80th Birthday Party Exercise
A great way to identify and understand what your values are is to think about what you would want people to say about you at your 80th birthday part. Write down the qualities and characteristics you want people to know you for. Assess what is most important in your life. When your choices are guided by the values and goals that are most important to you, your life can be full and active, yet not stressful.
The Choice Point
Your choices either take you toward who you want to be, or away from who you want to be. The Choice Point is being in a difficult moment and experiencing difficult sensations and making a choice to move towards your values or away from your values. Taking action at a point in time that leads you towards your values, leads you to a more fulfilling life. Take a look at this video – The Choice Point: A Map for a Meaningful Life.
As mentioned earlier, our stress response kicks in, our behaviors and thinking patterns becomes less flexible. So here are some ways we can train ourselves to have psychological flexibility.
Being here now means being in the present moment (as opposed to thinking of the past or the future).
Accepting the way I feel means not avoiding unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Instead, sitting with them, experiencing them with compassion, curiosity and acceptance until they pass.
Noticing my thoughts means seeing thoughts as just thoughts. They come, they go. They are just what the brain does, makes thoughts. I don’t have to buy into my thoughts. They do not define me.
Doing what I care about means taking action to live life in accordance with my values.
Are Your Thoughts Helpful?
Check in with your actions or ‘away moves’ that take you away from your path, sometimes they are “good”, but not for long periods of times. If you are buying in to the story your mind is telling you, first take a moment to check out its WORKABILITY. Workability is when we see if our story helps us follow the path toward our meaningful life or does it move us away?
Thank your mind for your thoughts. This means you don’t have to buy into your thoughts. You can see them for what they are, thoughts. It also means you are not trying to replace your thoughts with more desirable thoughts, nor are you trying to stop or reduce your thoughts.
Avoiding our negative feelings and thoughts will not lead us to our values but to more suffering.
Avoidance of thoughts actually increases those thoughts in both frequency and strength and therefore their burden upon us.
Instead of avoiding our thoughts and feelings, embracing the present moment and sitting with those thoughts and feelings, in a non-judgmental way, with curiosity and acceptance, helps us move toward our values. Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.
A few mindfulness resources to check out:
5 Myths of Mindfulness – Dr. Russ Harris (3:25 min)
It’s important to find some relaxation methods that you can incorporate into your life for better management of your stress, which leads to better health!
Taking care of yourself
Some of these seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a good reminder that during stressful times, these basic elements can help tremendously in managing your stress.
Exercise – Even minimal exercise leaves you feeling better!
Good Food – Fuel your body with healthy foods. Whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies.
Sleep – Find ways to get that 8 hours of sleep. Get creative if needed.
Be realistic with your expectations for yourself and others.
Have patience and grace with yourself and others.
Use perspective taking to help understand other people – How you express your emotions, might not be the same as others.
Take a moment away for yourself when you need it.
Guided Imagery & Meditation
Guided Imagery & Meditation are essentially methods of focus. Focus on the breath, on a light, on a mantra. Benefits include decreased stress, increased focus, better sleep, improved heart health and immunity. Many exercises can be found on-line. Find one that resonates with you and find a quiet place to focus on yourself.
Yoga has many variations. Find the one that fits your needs and a quiet place to practice. Yoga increases strength, flexibility and mindfulness and improves balance, focus and posture. It has been demonstrated to decrease stress, anxiety, improve health factors such as heart and immune health, improve sleep and focus. Many apps and YouTube resources are available for your quarantine time.
The Joys of Quarantine?
It may seem like an oxymoron but try to find the joys of quarantine. It could be any number of things.
More time with your children
More time to connect as a family
Getting back to basics
More time to be mindful
More time to ponder our values
How to Manage Your Stress Recap
Check in with your stress levels during this unprecedented time. Look to see how your perspective is influencing your thoughts. Look at your choices to respond. Remember your values and what actions lead you toward them and which ones lead you away from them. Be psychologically flexible: “I am here now, accepting the way I feel, and noticing my thoughts, while doing what I care about.” Avoidance of negative thoughts just gives them more power, acceptance is more adaptive. Utilize stress management techniques like intentional focus on taking care of yourself, mindfulness, yoga, guided imagery and more! We hope these recommendations and resources are helpful as you seek to manage your stress during these challenging days.
Need Additional Help?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Resources
Get Out of Your Mind and into Your Life by Steven C. Hayes
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
Act Made Simple by Russ Harris
Seek out professional support. We and many others have telehealth counseling services available during this time. And our counselors understand the complexities of being a parent to a child with autism. Contact us today for more details.
This content is from a webinar Dr. Jennifer Thomas, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA, Director of Clinical Standards at Healing Haven, and Danielle Harrison, MA, LPC, Counselor at Healing Haven presented to parents.You can download a copy of the slides here.
Having a child with autism, Down syndrome or any other type of special needs brings all kinds of new realities into your life. Some can be amazing – like gaining a whole new community of people you may have never met before. But other things can definitely add stress to the lives of autism parents. From more doctor appointments to navigating special education and IEPs, to scheduling therapies – all of these new realities can put stress on your relationships with your spouse, your family members and your friends.
With the help of Allie Young-Rivard, LLPC, we’ve compiled some information and resources to help autism parents with relationships that may be under stress.
Marriage – The odds are NOT stacked against you
There’s an often-quoted
statistic that the divorce rate among parents who have a child with autism is
around 80%. Or it’s at least quoted as being higher than the general
population. This outdated figure was based on older, smaller studies, which can
often lead to inaccurate data.
“Researchers in Baltimore investigated the supposed 80 percent divorce rate for parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Unlike other studies, this one was particularly large – using data from almost 78,000 parents, 913 of whom had a child with autism – and included families from across the United States. The bigger the study, the less likely the results are due to chance or something unique about the pool of people studied. The researchers, from Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, found no evidence of an 80 percent divorce rate.9In fact, parents of children with autism split up as often as parents of children who don’t have autism, according to their research.”
We hope this
new information encourages you that even though you may face some stress in
your marriage due to your child’s diagnosis, it doesn’t automatically mean your
marriage is doomed because of autism. If your marriage is struggling, ask for
help before it’s too late.
When Divorce Does Happen
Even with this hopeful news for couples
who have an autistic child, there are still a lot of marriages under stress. Deciding
to divorce is complex and difficult. This life-altering course can cause
intense anxiety. It can also cause worry about how the decision to separate
will affect your children. For parents of children with special needs, the
choice to separate and/or divorce is particularly difficult because of the
added needs and responsibilities.
Support for Your Child
Many children on the autism spectrum have difficulty adapting to change. So naturally it is common for parents to worry how their child will acclimate to their new reality, routine and living situation. It is important to prepare your child for the changes that are going to happen. Providing your child with a visual schedule that outlines the custody arrangements will help them know what to expect. Having consistency at both houses will also be helpful. Work together to have a similar calendar at both locations that shows your child’s daily routines and notes what house he or she will be at. By using tools that prepare them you can help them understand their new routine and hopefully reduce some anxiety. Additionally, talking about the schedule ahead of time to avoid surprises is beneficial for everyone involved.
Another helpful idea is to create a
social story explaining the changes and what to expect. If your child receives
ABA therapy, talk with their BCBA about creating a personalized social story to
prepare them for their new routine and the changes in their family situation.
Lastly, depending on the age of the child and their communication ability, seeking a therapist who specializes in adjustment could be helpful. We have counselors on our team who work with children and teens on the autism spectrum. Seeing an experienced therapist can help children process their new family dynamics and adjust to the changes. Please contact us if you would like to pursue counseling for your child.
It is important for a divorced couple
to remember that is it about the child (or children). The definition of
Verb; (especially of a separated or unmarried couple) share the duties of parenting (a child).
Keeping your focus on doing what is best for your child can help both parents stay on track and follow through on maintaining routines. Establishing and upholding proper communication with your former spouse will ensure support and success for your child. If communication with your ex is difficult, seek out family counseling and/or individual therapy if your former spouse is unwilling to join you. Counseling can help you learn how best to work together for the common interest of your child.
Family or Friends Who Don’t Understand Your Child’s Unique Needs
When your child is diagnosed with a
disability it can often feel like you’re alone. Those close to you may not
understand what you’re going through as you navigate therapies, doctors,
support at school and situations that are difficult for your child. Some may
spend less time with you and your family. This often stems from not really
understanding the diagnosis. When a family member or close friend expresses
criticism of your child’s behavior, or of you as a parent, it’s important to
You can first try to explain what your
child’s diagnosis means, how it impacts them medically, emotionally,
behaviorally, etc. Explain the therapies and medical treatments they are
receiving and why. Talk about what their education situation is like and how it
benefits them. If your child has sensory issues, repetitive behaviors or
stimming, difficulty with change, etc, it’s good to take time to explain them
to your family. Being open and honest can help your loved ones understand and
hopefully lead to support from them.
Is It Time To Set Boundaries?
If, however, after explaining all of these things, they isolate you or stop talking with you, first know that it’s not you or your child. It is their inability to be sensitive and understanding of differences and supportive of those with unique needs. If you are facing criticism or lack of understanding toward your child, you may need to establish boundaries. This may mean limiting time spent at family gatherings, or not taking your kids to their grandparents’ house.
Whatever the situation you are facing, it’s important to remove yourself from unsupportive relationships and find support from others in similar situations. Setting boundaries with unsupportive family members can be tough, but putting your mental health and the child’s well being first is beneficial for everyone. Additionally, a professional counselor can help you develop coping skills to navigate strained relationships, as well as help you process your own feelings regarding your child’s diagnosis.
We hope you’ve found this information and ideas for autism parents helpful as you encounter stress in various relationships. And if you find you need some outside help and perspective, please reach out to us!
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The Value of Counseling for Families Impacted by Autism
Receiving an autism diagnosis can result in a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and stress for parents, as well as for the child diagnosed and their siblings. So appropriately, counseling and autism go together like macaroni and cheese. When Healing Haven started in 2010, our foundational programs were ABA therapy and stress management services. We later added more programs, expanding the ages we provide ABA for, and providing additional supports like Speech Therapy, Counseling, Occupational Therapy and Academic Instruction.
Stress management for parents of children with special needs is critical, as “parent well-being increases child well-being”. Research tells us that parents can be effective agents of change for their children’s behaviors. Additionally, children and teens with autism often need help addressing their emotional needs, anxiety, and social challenges.
Our counseling services cover a wide range of needs. For parents we help them navigate this autism diagnosis, manage stress, and learn behavioral modification skills. For the child with autism we help them learn skills to manage their emotions and interact in the world around them. Additionally, we help siblings process the emotions that come from having a brother or sister on the spectrum and provide them with strategies to cope.
Meet Our Counselor
Our onsite therapist, Danielle Harrison, MA, LPC, has been working with families impacted by autism and other special needs since 2012. She started as an ABA therapist while in her undergraduate psychology program. After receiving her master’s in counseling she transitioned to the role of Counselor. Her experience in ABA therapy is a valuable tool that Danielle uses often in her counseling sessions, whether it’s with children, or while providing Parent Training.
Danielle uses techniques of applied behavior analysis to shape behaviors in children with autism. She uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help them work through the emotions that may be causing them trouble. She also provides Parent Training to help families understand the concepts of reinforcement and discipline in an effort to help them set up reinforcement systems at home.
Some clients may not have an official autism diagnosis, but struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD or other issues. She is not only able to work with the child, but also able to equip parents to manage emotions and reduce disruptive behaviors.
Navigating the Diagnosis
Danielle enjoys helping parents work through their emotions to help them accept their child’s diagnosis. Once a parent is able to come to terms with their child’s deficits and appreciates their strengths, their stress often lessens and their relationship with their child strengthens.
Another aspect of Danielle’s work is helping teens with autism who struggle with belonging, finding friends at school, and relating with their peers.
The Role of Advocate
Danielle says the most fulfilling aspect of her job is being an advocate for her children and teens. She enjoys using her skill set to collaborate with families and schools to help her clients reach their maximum potential.
A Front Seat to Growth
We have observed first hand the growth in so many of Danielle’s clients. For example, she has a client for which she has worked with over the past seven years. When she started, the child was only 3 years old and unable to communicate her emotions, often leading to meltdowns. Now at the age of 10 she is able to effectively communicate her wants and needs. If she becomes upset, she now has the skills to calm down in under 10 minutes verses two to three hours. Witnessing that kind of growth is so motivating for Danielle.
Another incubator for personal growth is the social skills group Danielle leads. The group of elementary age clients has been together for two years. When they first started they worked on basic social skills. Now they have formed real friendships. They support each other when one of them is upset. The skills they have learned here have helped them in their everyday environments at home and at school. Danielle hopes to see this group stay together as they move into their teen years.
In Need of Help?
As you can see, counseling has broad benefits in the autism world. If you are a parent in need of help for yourself, or your child is struggling with autism, ADHD, depression or anxiety, we are here to help! Just fill out the Contact Us form and we will get back with you!