People with autism are amazing, but oftentimes their parents feel lonely or isolated. Sensory issues and potential for meltdowns may keep many families in the house. Babysitters and people who can provide respite care aren’t always easy to find. And many parents of children with autism just feel alone in their struggles and have a hard time finding people who truly understand.
If you have ever felt this way, you are not alone, and there is hope. Even parents of neurotypical kids can feel isolated and lonely, and many other autism parents and caretakers like you have gone through similar battles. Read on for some tips and ideas on preventing—and fighting—the loneliness that often pervades special needs parenting.
7. Join a support group
Whether online or in person, a support group of some sort can connect you with people who “get it,” as they are in the same boat as you. If you choose to go online to find a support group, look for one that’s either large or local so that you can try to connect with other parents in your area. That not only offers you the option to meet up with these online friends in real life, but it also gives you opportunities to talk and learn about things that are going on in your specific area.
6. Pick up a hobby
Many loving, devoted parents—whether their children are typically developing or special needs—can find themselves so entrenched in caring for their child that they lose themselves in the process. “Mom” or “Dad” becomes their main identity, and though parenting is certainly a significant, important part of your life, making it your entire life isn’t healthy for you or your child.
So find something else to do that you enjoy—whether it’s painting, writing, reading, exercising, photography, playing a sport, or anything else. The sky is the limit! It will also give you a point of connection with other adults who have similar hobbies.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—or accept it when it’s offered
Some people have no problem asking for a helping hand or accepting assistance when it’s offered. Others, not so much. If you belong to the latter category, remember that you are only human and there’s only so much you can do on your own. If you are struggling and have someone you can turn to, do so. If someone offers help, accept it or make note of it, writing down their name and contact information so you can give them a shout when you’re in need. If you can’t think of anyone to turn to, try asking around. There may be a neighbor or a person in your place of worship who could help. And even if they can’t, they might know someone who could!
Don’t feel comfortable with that or still struggling? You might want to consider searching for local respite care services. The National Respite Network has a search option that can help you find something in your area. I found several options for both kids and adults with autism by searching within 50 miles of my small hometown. But even if you don’t find anything through it, don’t lose hope; keep looking! And if cost is an issue, you may be able to get financial help.
4. Find people through your child’s school
With autism affecting one in 68, your child, if school-aged, is probably not the only kid on the spectrum at his/her school. Try connecting with the parents of these other kids. Hey, that could become a support group, too!
3. Couples: Don’t forget your significant other!
If you are in a relationship of some sort, whether your significant other is the child’s parent or another individual, be sure to make time for them. Keeping the romance alive will not only stave off isolation, but it will also make you a stronger caretaking team if you live under the same roof. This might look like lunch dates when your child is in school, movie nights after s/he has gone to bed, or a lovely night out while making use of respite care.
2. Ensure your child is not isolated
If your child is isolated, that probably means you are isolated, as well. That’s not good for either of you. Keep an eye out or conduct an internet search for autism-friendly events in your area. You can even talk to your child’s therapist or teacher to see if they know of anything!
1. Look for the right people to befriend
While making friends with other special needs parents can certainly be helpful and fight off isolation and loneliness, that’s obviously not your only option. Other individuals—old friends, people you’ve met through a hobby, etc. can also provide a sense of companionship. But remember that not everyone deserves the honor of being your friend. Those who flinch at the subject of autism or seem hesitant around your child may not fit the BFF bill. But those who accept your child and care about him/her may be friends worth having.