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Self-care for parents of autistic and special needs children

Self-care tips for special needs parents

Updated: August 29, 2023 · 3 Minute Read

Jeryn Cambrah

Written by:

Jeryn Cambrah


  • Alone time or time doing fun activities is good for your overall health and can help prevent caregiver burnout
  • You can't show up as your best self for your family if you don't take care of yourself
  • Seek out and rely on community and professionals to support you as a person and caregiver
  • Make at least one act of self-care part of your weekly routine, even if that's just taking a walk

Have you ever heard the analogy that you've got to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others? Well, that’s not just a one time thing. It can be tempting to focus all your energy on the needs of your child, but you need to take care of yourself. You need to keep yourself healthy and supported to be your best for your family. Make sure you are finding time to recharge and doing things to keep you energized.


Be patient with yourself 

When parents learn of their child’s diagnosis, they may have strong feelings, including disbelief, sadness, anger and depression. Others experience these feelings less at diagnosis and more when trying to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. It’s important to remember that every parent responds differently; there are no “right” or “wrong” feelings. Give yourself time to process, cope, and ask for support when needed. Here are some reminders from us to you.


Commit to doing something for yourself each week

Make this a regular habit. Although it may be difficult to schedule time, make at least one thing for yourself part of your routine. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make time for one of your hobbies: Garden, bake, listen to music, paint, or anything you love to do!
  • Get out of the house: Go to a movie or meet up with friends for dinner.
  • Exercise: A walk around the neighborhood or even a stretching routine can make a world of difference.
  • Rest: We know what you’re thinking – when can I possibly do that?? While rest may feel like an unattainable goal sometimes, look for pockets of relaxation. You may not be able to go to the spa or hit the golfing range, but maybe you can watch an episode of your favorite show or take a “power nap”. Rest is productive – you don’t have to constantly be doing something.
  • Pack your bags: While many families opt out of travel due to concerns about safety, their child’s needs, etc., travel is still possible! With some preparation and planning, your family can still enjoy time away. (Beaches and road trips are great options!) You may be surprised how well your child responds to the change of scenery, and how beneficial the trip is for the whole family.
  • If you have a partner, spend some one-on-one quality time with them: Whether that’s binging a show on Netflix or going out for a solo date, make sure you’re checking in with each other and prioritizing your relationship.


Find help to allow you to have alone time

Your network of family and friends likely want to help. Let them in. Be willing to share with them how they can best support you. If you can, find someone who can offer reliable child care. For when there’s something you need to do or you just need a break, it’s best to put finding a nanny or babysitter high on your to-do list! Be sure to vet potential sitters for their experience working with the kind of needs your child has.


More tips

  • We love this short blog post written by a parent with 20+ years of experience raising a child with developmental differences. It’s a thoughtful perspective on the journey ahead.
  • Support groups via your local parent center or even online can be really helpful. You're not alone, and you shouldn't have to be.
  • Telehealth has made it possible for people to attend therapy from the comfort of home. Some take your insurance, or if you're uninsured, work on a sliding scale. Find a therapy app that works for you and allow yourself the space to heal, vent, grow, and care for your mind.
  • Walk away for a minute and breathe. We can't be perfect or have it together all the time. If you feel your fuse is a little short or you're just too darn tired to deal with something, it's okay to excuse yourself and take a minute. Yes, even when all heck has broken loose. (Trust me, it will save a lot of hurt feelings later.) Learn more about self-regulation and co-regulation in our connection guide.

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