It was just another day, nothing special. I was six months in to being my then almost two-year-old’s primary ABA therapist in our home in Virginia, and my son was being his usual receptive self, eager to work for his spinny toys. We had just finished working and I was preparing to take him on a much needed walk when a wave of fatigue hit me that had nothing to do with my prior night’s sleep. Suddenly, I just really needed to sit down, which was not something I did a great deal of in those days.
I sank into our sofa, watched as Justin played eagerly with his new toy, and realized I needed much more than a walk for a break.
My eldest son Justin was diagnosed at seventeen months with autism, a very tender age for a diagnosis back in 2004. Unfortunately my adopted state of Virginia did not recognize an autism diagnosis at that time in terms of dispensing therapies, so no Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) was offered to us. At that point we contacted a local ABA agency, got myself and two therapists trained, and began working with him. The two therapists came in for a total of five hours weekly, and I did another thirty to thirty-five hours with my toddler.
To say I was exhausted was an understatement.
Honestly, the fatigue ran far deeper than multiple hours of therapy daily and somewhat fractured sleep. I was exhausted from how difficult my lovely boy could sometimes be, from anything to eating to sleeping to simply leaving the house. I was worn out from the worry, the wondering if he would ever talk, handle school, be independent one day. The weight of the future weighed heavily on me every moment.
And I knew something had to give, or I could no longer continue to give my best self to my boy.
I couldn’t speed up time and get him into full-time school to give me some much needed respite, so I knew I needed to look for other options. I also knew that my husband and I needed some time together too, and fast. I realized I needed to let go of some of my fears, find a sitter once a week, and start taking my mom up on her offers to watch her grandson when she came to visit every month-and-a-half or so.
I finally let people help us, and it was exactly what I needed.
I found a sitter who could come in once a week during the day for a few hours, and I ran errands or sometimes just went to the mall and sat with a hot chocolate and read in their bookstore. When my mom came down to visit we started taking her up on her offers to let us do dinner and a movie, and we began letting her. We eventually even found a sitter with whom we felt comfortable letting her put Justin down at night, and we were able to finally go out with another couple, even if it was brief.
These outings saved my sanity, and probably my marriage.
If your son or daughter has just been diagnosed with autism I’m sure going out to dinner is the last thing on your mind. You may be embroiled in arranging Early Intervention providers, or beginning the myriad of assessments to get your child admitted to a special education program in your district. You may be trying to figure out insurance, special diets, or trying to find an appropriate social skills group.
In short, you’re probably exhausted too.
When the absolutely critical things have been achieved, make yourself a promise. Carve out some time for yourself. Make sure your spouse does the same. Take up some of those offers to babysit, and if no one is offering, ask. Get out with your partner or spouse. Try not to spend the entire evening talking about autism if you can. And I know, that’s a tough one.
Try your best to take care of yourself and your relationship, because those are two of the best ways to help your child.
Try, if you can for a few hours, to let go of the weight of worry.
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