Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are no strangers to common feelings of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, commonly referred to as caregiver burnout. There is no sugar-coating the amount of dedicated effort that goes into raising a child on the spectrum on top of the standard travails of parenting. Not only are you required to provide unrelenting love and support, but you’re also expected to meet the challenging daily needs of neurodivergent individuals. These demands can easily lead to higher stress levels and considerable consequences without proper remedial action.
ABA Centers of Florida is more than aware of caregiver burnout and its effects on the body and mind. While we strongly recommend ABA therapy as the first step toward alleviating some of these challenges, there are various other ways that parents can prevent caregiver burnout when raising a child on the spectrum. Let’s dive into how caregiver burnout impacts many aspects of a parent’s life and how these remedial actions can make a massive difference for you and your child.
What is Caregiver Burnout, and How Does it Begin?
Raising and caring for a child with a developmental disorder such as ASD is time-consuming and demanding. Parents in this position often feel that most of their efforts must go toward their child, leading to neglect of personal emotions and needs. They may feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than their child and create unrealistic expectations in their involvement to satisfy what they feel is necessary. Such is the nature of parenting, but this burdensome stress is not a normal way to live.
When a parent becomes overwhelmed, exhausted, confused, or filled with hopelessness as they tend to their child’s daily needs, they are likely experiencing caregiver burnout to some capacity. While these feelings are very much some of the primary indicators, other symptoms of caregiver burnout include the following:
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and loved ones
- Irritability and hostility toward loved ones
- Lack of control
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- More frequent illnesses
- Stress, anxiety, and depression
Role confusion is also a prominent component of caregiver burnout. When someone takes on the role of a caregiver, they often find it difficult to separate that role from their other priorities as a parent, spouse, friend, or close companion. They may get confused about the deterioration of previous relationships and lash out if someone challenges their decisions.
How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout may seem inevitable for parents with children on the spectrum, but the good news is that many options exist to absolve these challenges. ABA Centers of Florida finds that these techniques are the most ideal for preventing caregiver burnout and its associated challenges:
1. Educate Yourself – The more a parent familiarizes themselves with autism, the more effective they will be when helping a child with it. Do thorough research and utilize various resources such as FAQs and blogs. This way, you can prepare yourself for unexpected challenges and be ready to provide an answer.
One of the most jeopardizing things a caregiver can do is believe that no outside options exist to aid them in their duties. There is always room for improvement, people are always willing to talk, and this vital information is usually just a click or phone call away.
2. Vocalize Your Feelings – If you feel overwhelmed trying to balance your normal life with your duties as a caregiver, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by keeping these emotions locked in. Confide in someone you trust – a friend, loved one, co-worker, or someone willing to listen – and let them know how you feel. These people often have answers you may not have considered, or they can allow you to express your emotions concisely. Peer support groups also work well in this regard.
Talking to a mental health professional is another option, especially if your burnout has manifested into bouts of depression or intense anxiety. Therapists, social workers, and other trained professionals can help you cope with your physical and emotional distress and give valuable advice.
3. Develop Self-Help Techniques – Plenty of self-help strategies to relieve stress and anxiety exist and are easy to implement. Take time to reflect on the more challenging aspects of caregiving and consider ways to make these easier. Some techniques to consider include the following:
- Recognizing you may have caregiver burnout
- Reserving time to unwind and do something you enjoy
- Accepting the fact that you may need assistance with caregiving
- Setting realistic goals to achieve
- Understanding your limits and being honest with yourself
- Staying healthy through exercise, eating right, and getting sufficient sleep
- Accentuating the positives and utilizing humor during stressful situations
Always remember that taking care of yourself is not a luxury; it is a necessity that you must always prioritize. If you are in a situation where you truly don’t believe that you can better yourself while caring for a child, your best bet is to consider outside help.
4. Consider Respite Care Services – Respite care is a short-term service that temporarily relieves a primary caregiver of their duties. This care can range from an afternoon to multiple weeks at a time and can take place at home or a respite care facility.
Respite care services will provide a parent with a trained and certified professional to care for a child’s needs in the short term. They most frequently have a background in goal-based treatment methodologies and step-by-step behavior analysis. The two main types of respite care include traditional and specialized, which differ in the extent of their provided services. Some general tasks of each care type include the following:
- Traditional: This care handles personal needs and in-home activities such as washing, using the restroom, playing, preparing meals, and brushing teeth.
- Specialized: This provides the same services as traditional but adds some extra beneficial care. Specialized professionals may teach, supervise, and actively engage with children while caregivers take time for themselves or take care of other obligations.
Some of the more reputable respite care service providers will rotate their staff members to familiarize the child with various people who can help boost social and conversational skills.
Various funding options exist for those who cannot pay for respite care. These include the National Respite Network, the RAISE Family Caregiving Advisory Council, and others.
5. Pair Respite Care With ABA Therapy – Respite care works extremely well for caregiver burnout but works even better when paired with other services like ABA therapy for autism. ABA therapy teaches neurodivergent children plenty of useful skills that caregivers would otherwise be required to enforce and develop. These can include:
- Fine and gross motor skills
- Daily living activities
- Coping skills
- Social play skills
- Visual/perception skills
Positive reinforcement is another primary strategy used in ABA therapy, which encourages positive behavior change through rewards; this can make life at home much easier for parents and respite care professionals, especially if some inappropriate behaviors have contributed to stress and anxiety levels in the past.
Need to Alleviate Caregiver Burnout? Contact ABA Centers of Florida
At ABA Centers of Florida, our patient-centered approach uses evidence-based methods to help children improve social and behavioral skills, increase communication skills, and elevate academic focus – all things that can greatly alleviate challenges brought on by caregiver burnout.
If you’ve experienced any symptoms of caregiver burnout while helping with your child’s daily tasks, don’t hesitate to contact us today to learn more about how we can help.