Research shows practicing mindfulness can help parents manage daily stressors.
Autism is a mental health condition that falls under the larger umbrella of neurodivergence. A spectrum disorder, it comes with varying degrees of impairment when it comes to communication and social skills as well as intellectual capability. Many autistic children have a genius level IQ, while many others struggle significantly with executive functioning and academic pursuits. Thus, autism is more difficult to diagnose in some children than it is in others.
With all the therapies available to help these children get through life the best they possibly can, there’s not a lot of support for the parents themselves. In fact, most assume that giving the child adequate therapy will, in turn, help the parents, so targeted parents specifically is not worthwhile. That’s simply not true.
Helping a child with autism can range from managing meltdowns at home to getting teachers and school districts, in general, to provide educational and behavioral support to managing sensory triggers and many other interventions. Most parents will also ensure their child is working with a therapist who specializes in autism to develop coping skills.
The load on the parents is a full-time job. Many autistic children also don’t sleep very well so not only are the parents exhausted from the sheer amount of effort they put in on a daily basis, but they’re also running on only a few hours of sleep. While the stresses of parenting children without autism will normally ease as a child reaches adulthood, parents of children tend to continue their support roles in a child’s life while into their adult years.
The idea behind mindful parenting is recognizing one’s emotional state and learning to calm oneself during stressful situations. This can be accomplished in several ways, but often includes practices in meditation and yoga to help parents shift their stress response. By exploring their own reactions to daily stressors, these parents can learn to focus on the present moment and reclaim a calmer state.
The benefit is that practicing mindfulness doesn’t address specific stressors which can change with each parent’s situation, but stress management in general. This way parents can adapt mindfulness strategies to address their personal struggles in the ways that work for them.
All children, autistic or not, learn through observation. Children read their parents’ moods as much as parents react to the emotional states of their children. If a parent begins to practice mindfulness on a regular basis and attempts to maintain a calm demeanor overall, it’s been reported that the same emotional regulation will also be witnessed in the child.
When parents work hard at remaining calm in stressful situations, the child will likely be calm too. And, when parents are actively working to regulate their emotions, children will notice that self-control and feel safe. In general, while the stressors for parents of autistic children will still be there, the mind and body will remain at a healthier, more balanced state, ensuring parents continue to feel their best despite the difficulties life throws at them.