911 For Autism Parenting Burnout
Updated: Nov 12
By Patty Laushman
Parenting is hard. Parenting neurodivergent kids (even once they are adults) who don't fit the boxes society imposes is so much harder. And it doesn't end when they turn 18! They can get there, but it just might take a bit longer than you expect.
As much as we love our teen and adult kids and would do anything for them, the chronic stress of parenting neurodivergent offspring has been compared in some cases to the stress of combat soldiers.
Breakdowns in your ability to respond to demands are inevitable. When this happens, you need a military-grade self-care toolbox because if you don't take care of yourself, no one else will. Read on for tips on preventing and overcoming parenting burnout.
1. Schedule an appointment with a therapist
Sometimes we just need someone to listen deeply without interruption to get out of our heads and into a different perspective. Obviously, if you are experiencing high levels of anxiety or depression, a therapist should be your first stop. Try to find someone who understands neurodiversity. This is not a standard part of therapist training, so you have to ask.
2. Reinforce boundaries around non-essential activities
Repeat after me. "No." When you're out of emotional bandwidth, the last thing you need to do is spend time on activities that suck up more bandwidth. Doom-scrolling social media, researching new resources for your adult child, or scheduling their next dentist appointment are all things that can be temporarily paused. If feelings of guilt arise when you say no, remember that you can't take care of anyone else if you're not operating with your oxygen mask on.
3. Burn off your anxious energy
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Get out in nature. Swimming. Biking. Do whatever sounds like the least amount of work and the most amount of fun. There is no substitute for exercise when you're feeling burned out. If you can't get started, slap on your shoes and walk for just 10 minutes outside. Leave your phone at home and become aware of your surroundings. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? This will ground your mind and help you recharge. If vigorous exercise is not your thing, try other activities like yoga or even cleaning the house with a little more intensity.
4. Take a quick mental break
Find a place you can avoid interruption for 15 minutes. This might mean closing your office door, locking yourself in the bedroom, or my favorite, sitting in my car in the garage where no one will look for me. Now spend some time doing something that leaves you feeling uplifted. Do a quick meditation using a meditation app or YouTube video. Lean into your faith. Read an inspiring book or search for inspirational quotes online. Recite some affirmations. Whatever you do, make sure to breathe!
5. Lean on others who "get it"
Finding others who understand can be tricky when parenting unique kids. So many people don't get it and leave us feeling misunderstood or judged, even within our own families. Spend time, if possible, just having fun with other adults who support you over coffee or a quick lunch. Do whatever it takes to connect with your partner.
You should also consider joining Thrive Autism Coaching's moderated Facebook group: Parents of Autistic Adults Support (ASD1, Asperger's, High-Functioning)
6. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can't
When in the throes of burnout, you may feel hopeless and helpless, but it's important to remember the one thing you never lose control of is yourself and your actions. Instead of focusing on the things you can't do or haven't accomplished yet, you can shift toward a sense of agency by shifting your focus. What small thing can you do right now that moves you in the direction you want to go, something so easy you can't fail if you try? Now do it. Or schedule it. Next, pick one more small thing, maybe something you can do for someone else. This helps shift your focus to a broader perspective. Wash, rinse, repeat.
7. Hire an autism parenting coach
At the risk of sounding self-serving, a parenting coach who understands neurodivergent adults can be a game-changer. They can validate that all your complex emotions are valid. Someone skilled will be able to help you connect with your adult child, learn to talk with them in ways that don't trigger defensiveness, and coach them toward success. Learn more about our parent coaching or contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your situation and explore whether we are a fit to work together.