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On the last track, we discussed parenting siblings in a family that has an autistic child. These included the parentified child, the family mascot and the withdrawn child.
Do you have families who are stressed to the point of exhaustion trying to parent their autistic child? How do you help them to unwind?
On this track, we will discuss Taking a Break. This will include dates and support groups.
Darryl, age 40, and Sharon, age 38, were parents to three children, Andrea, age 5, was autistic. Sharon came to an individual appointment, stating, “I stay with Andrea and my younger two children all day, every day. Darryl goes to his law office, and when he gets home, he’s usually too exhausted to play with them, especially Andrea. As a result, they’re even more clingy to me. I am at my wit’s end. I’m too tired to eat and too hungry to sleep! My husband won’t help me, and I’m trying to be both mom and dad to three children! I’m starting to forget why we ever got married…I feel alone and like I’m going to go crazy!”
I stated, “As you may know, it is ok for you to have some time to yourself! You might need a break, an evening out with your spouse or a friend, and perhaps even some vacations alone. Though you may have very positive intentions, you can actually do more damage than help to your family by driving yourself to the point of exhaustion.”
Sharon stated, “I’m afraid to leave them…especially Andrea, with a babysitter or even my own mother! They might not realize how hard it is to get her to sleep at night or how to handle any number of her behaviors! I mean, when I’m at home, I don’t get breaks unless my kids are at school or asleep!”
I stated, “Maybe you could trade babysitting with a close friend. If you can’t find someone with experience to baby-sit, you might consider finding a responsible college or high school student and training that person. You may want to teach him or her how Andrea communicates, what she likes and dislikes, and how to handle those difficult moments. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always find another baby-sitter. Taking time to relax can help you have more energy to come home and be a parent.”
If you’re thinking about starting or entering a support group, think hard about what you will want from the group, because that will determine what size group will benefit you the most. If you have specific issues that you feel you need to bring up, discuss, and get feedback on, a smaller group may be more helpful; you’ll have plenty of chances to jump in and air your concerns.
If you want to be somewhat anonymous and focus on more general issues, a larger group may suit your needs. Sometimes larger groups have the resources to bring in speakers and consultants, which you might find helpful. Just remember that if you’re in a larger group, you may not have an opportunity to bring up very specific issues about Andrea’s particular situation.
You may feel that it’s important that your support group remain focused on one topic instead of devlolving into a ‘gripe session.’ While it’s nice to know others share your problems, you may feel more depressed rather than less so, and often the goal of support groups is to help their members feel better. You might want to find a facilitator who will direct the group in a way that will focus on sharing successful techniques, so you will leave with both a positive outlook and new strategies to help Andrea.”
Sharon asked, “What about my other two kids? Could they eventually benefit from a support group, do you think?” I stated, “Absolutely. A friend of mine ran a support group for siblings of autistic children. One rule that they instated was that no one would have to talk about their autistic siblings in the group. Your other children may find this helpful, especially if they feel that they have to pay a lot of attention to Andrea often at home. It may help them feel more important as individuals.” Sharon asked, “If I were to start my own support group, how would you advise I go about doing that?”
I stated, “You may want to contact each participant ahead of time individually to find out what his or her needs and expectations are. That way, you can concentrate on the issues that are important to everyone in the group and plan each session’s topic to keep things as productive and helpful as possible. Within the group, you might work together to develop resource lists, culling from each family’s list of people they trust and respect, ranging from baby-sitters to clinicians to advocacy sources. Remember, support groups can be useful, but some effort and planning will probably need to go into them to make them worth both your time and everyone else’s time.”
Do you have a Sharon whom you feel might benefit from a support group? Might playing this track be beneficial for him or her?
On this track, we discussed Taking a break. This included dates and support groups.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 7
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