So there I am, finally getting back to the gym after the holidays, after all the snow days and other life events that seem to get in the way. I grab a copy of “Self” magazine – one of my guilty pleasures is reading magazines while on the treadmill. I start in on a reader essay about being “too fat for the gym” figuring this should help my motivation. No sooner did I get about four paragraphs in when it hits. The reason that the writer became “too fat for the gym”? You guessed it, autism. When her son was diagnosed, some doctor informed her that there was an “autism window” that only stayed open until the age of 5. Her son, she was told, was “teetering on the brink of a disorder” and her job was to “pull him back from the brink”. Needless to say, she took these words literally, hit the ground running on interventions and forgot about her health along the way.
Regardless of what one might think about an “autism window” or the “teetering on the brink” dilemma, we can all relate to what this mom was going through. Receiving the diagnosis of autism is on one level a relief (finally, someone agrees with me that something IS different about my child) and on another level is a call to arms. Early intervention we are told is the key to success. Intervene early and often (to misquote). We parents throw ourselves into the world of autism, interventions, programs, resources, services, etc. etc. Leave no stone unturned, lest we not find the magic bullet that will “cure” our child. As this mom said, neglecting herself was proof that she was doing everything possible.
But life with a child on the spectrum is not a sprint. It’s a marathon and we cannot keep up that frenetic activity for any length of time. Nor should we. Yes, early intervention is good. The earlier the better. But it is just as important to choose the right program to serve the right purpose. We need to know which deficits exist, which ones we are working on and we need to figure out a way to determine whether the programs and services we are utilizing are working. This requires thoughtful research and planning. This requires a little bit of time and some breathing space. It would be so much easier if there were a general road map that worked for all our kids. But as anyone with experience in this area knows, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. No one program works for all people. There is no “one size fits all”. We must individualize programs to the needs of the person based upon their unique strengths and weaknesses.
And the only way to do that is if we, as parents, take care of ourselves. We need to remember that we are the lynch pin of our child’s progress. As they say on the airplane, place your oxygen mask on your face first before you help others. I was glad to see that this mom came to this realization herself, got back to her gym rat ways and recognized that she did her child no service (nor herself) if she didnt’ take care of her own needs as well.
So, as we are into the second month of the new year, and resolutions have been made and broken already, I challenge you to make a new one. This week, do something for yourself. Go to the gym. Take a pilates class. Read a book (not about autism). Meet a friend for coffee. Go to the movies with your spouse or significant other. Sign up for piano or tennis lessons. Then, do it again next week. And the next. You will find it easier every time. Your renewed sense of energy and purpose will be the reward.
Good luck and let us know how you are doing. Post suggestions for easy (and free!) treats for moms and dads living with autism. We all deserve to give ourselves a break.