A Parent’s Perspective: Reflecting on special needs parenting and looking toward the new year
For many of us raising children with autism, our goals for the new year may differ greatly from our parenting peers. Losing 10 pounds or striving for a promotion at work likely isn’t our primary focus. Even simple resolutions, such as timely birthday cards or daily flossing, may not align with our journey. It’s not that healthy habits and new challenges aren’t important to us; it’s simply that everything in our world is overshadowed by autism.
Autism parenting can be all-consuming at times. As the world reflects on 2023 and anticipates what 2024 will bring, we may feel weary. We understand that we have little control over our child’s day-to-day struggles, so we approach the new year with caution and a lot of ABA therapy!
Just because our lives differ from those of our friends and family does not mean we shouldn’t engage in reflection and goal-setting. However, it’s crucial to do so with an appropriate mindset — one of self-compassion and realistic expectations for both ourselves and our child. This blog post aims to guide you in looking back and ahead with hope.
New Year’s Reflection Questions: Looking Back on the Wins and Losses of the Past Year
Each year, my inbox overflows with New Year’s reflection guides—most likely due to the number of self-help gurus I follow. I appreciate their willingness to provide a list of guided questions to help me reflect on the past year’s highs and lows. Honestly, without a little nudge, I might not take the time to look back.
As parents of children with autism, we constantly juggle tasks, manage schedules, put out fires, constantly redirect our children, and are always trying to think ahead. So, I’m offering you three simple reflection questions this year. I’ve found them incredibly useful, not just during the holidays but in any period of change or transition.
1. What Achievements Can You Celebrate?
Identify the wins from the past year, no matter how small. This question prompts you to recall the successes you and your child experienced. Sometimes we are so immersed in the day-to-day tasks that we miss the growth happening before us.
Maybe you found a routine that brought joy or peace to your child, or a new therapist that worked wonders. Every little milestone your child meets should not be overlooked or taken for granted.
2. What Were Your Biggest Challenges and Low Points?
Acknowledging the difficulties can be challenging, but it’s essential to identify them in order to learn from them. This question also allows you to see patterns that may have emerged throughout the year.
Did your child struggle with a certain skill or behavior consistently? Did you find yourself feeling burnt out or struggling with self-care? It’s useful to know what didn’t work so that you can learn from these experiences and make necessary changes.
3. What Do You Want to Carry Forward into the New Year?
As we usher in the new year, it’s not just about letting go but also recognizing what we want to keep. What are the things that bring you comfort or joy that you want to consciously carry into the new year? It could be as simple as your daily cup of coffee. (Me!) Recognizing these elements will help you maintain a sense of continuity and stability through the changing times.
Typically, I am somewhat unsure about what to do with my reflections from past years. However, I have developed a practice of jotting them down in my journal. As I flip through the pages over the course of the year, these reflections serve as powerful reminders of my journey, as well as that of my child.
It’s important to remember that as much as we might wish for stability, change is a constant part of life. Having a record of the triumphs, the setbacks, and the non-negotiables provides a sense of grounding for me. It is my hope that adopting such a practice could offer the same benefit to you.
Charting a Path Forward: Five Possible New Year’s Resolutions for Parents of Children with Autism
As we enter the new year, let’s explore five potential New Year’s resolutions that can empower parents of children with autism. These New Year’s resolutions are designed to foster a nurturing and growth-oriented approach for both you and your child without being too overly ambitious.
1. Seek and Accept Help
Before you dismiss this idea, know that I empathize with your struggle. Finding help for a child who perceives and interacts with the world differently is challenging. It can be incredibly hard to secure the respite care needed. There have been seasons in my life when I juggled work, caring for my son with autism, managing his medical procedures, and striving to provide a somewhat normal teenage experience for my other child. It’s a hefty load. Caregivers aren’t always available, and even if they were, affording their services on top of other therapies can be daunting.
This new year, I challenge you to explore local resources and non-profits that may offer support. If your child is enrolled in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), there may be funds available to help pay for a babysitter—allowing you to run errands or enjoy some leisure time with a friend. Many local churches provide a babysitting night out for parents of children with special needs.
Assistance doesn’t always have to be in the form of childcare. If your neighbor offers to mow your lawn or a friend wants to deliver lasagna, accept the help with open arms! Make a conscious decision to say ‘yes’ when help presents itself.
2. Reconnect with Your Passions and Loved Ones
Parents of special needs children often sideline their own desires and needs, and understandably so. If your child has autism, their needs can be extensive. However, this doesn’t mean you should cease nurturing your own interests and relationships.
Consider rekindling connections with someone special in your life, perhaps an old friend you haven’t had the opportunity to catch up with in a while. I do acknowledge there can be an emotional toll in maintaining connections with friends from our previous lives, primarily when these relationships incite feelings of comparison. If this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to cultivate bonds with individuals who share similar life experiences.
One effective way I’ve found to build relationships is through shared hobbies, whether it’s a book club or hiking. Support groups can also be immensely helpful for parents of children with autism. Although not everyone you meet will become your best friend, you’re likely to find common ground that’s beneficial for your current situation. Remember, this journey is yours, and nurturing your interests and relationships can provide much-needed balance and support.
3. Choose a Sustainable Self-Care or Self-Compassion Focus
Commit to an ongoing and sustainable self-care activity. The very mention of this might stir up some strong emotions, as it certainly did for me over the years. An initial reaction might be to dismiss the idea, thinking that a pedicure or a bubble bath aren’t going to solve the problems at hand. It’s true, they won’t. However, understanding the difference between self-care and self-compassion can redefine this perspective.
Self-care can often be an indulgent and temporary escape, while self-compassion is a lasting, ongoing investment. A sustainable self-compassion activity can replenish your energy reservoirs, enabling you to continue on this challenging journey of parenting a child with autism with resilience. You won’t regret making such an investment.
For instance, my personal self-care ritual involves reading a good book at the end of the day, allowing me to wind down and transition to sleep. I also find it helpful to walk the dog every morning, which gets me out of the house and gives me a little more perspective on my day.
4. Evaluate Your Child’s Therapy and School Setting
It’s easy to put school and therapy routines on autopilot, but it’s beneficial to take a closer look at your child’s IEP and therapy goals. Perhaps everything is going well and there’s no need for change. However, this might be the year for big changes.
Every year, for my child’s annual ARD, I write a parent report—a simple one-page document that highlights what’s working well and what’s not. It’s akin to the reflection questions posed at the start of this blog. I also detail his strengths and interests, as well as my aspirations for him in the coming school year. Why not do the same for your child at the beginning of the year? And if there are challenges you want to address in the coming year, brainstorm some action items on how to tackle those too.
The same principle applies to therapy. Do you need to take a break from therapy or add a new type of therapy? If your child is enrolled in ABA, consider evaluating their treatment plan. Remember, you’re an integral part of your child’s team. If you are a client at ABA Connect, consider talking to your child’s BCBA about some of your goals for the coming year. Your child’s BCBA is sure to have some ideas for how to make progress—they’re here to support you on your journey.
If the list of things your child needs help with feels overwhelming, try focusing on one significant challenge to address. It could be the most pressing problem or the one you’re most likely able to solve. The point is to select an area that, when improved, will enhance not just your child’s life but yours too.
5. Embrace Acceptance: Acknowledging Your Child and Your Circumstances
Parenting a child with autism can be an isolating journey and certainly not one most people would consciously choose. The life you envisioned for your child may look starkly different now. As you navigate through this journey, you may grapple with accepting not only your child’s unique attributes but also the additional challenges that autism brings.
Achieving full acceptance of your circumstances may seem daunting, but it is entirely possible to accept your child for the wonderfully unique individual they are. If you’re not yet at this point, consider making this your resolution.
And by all means, let go of any guilt or apology you may feel compelled to give for things beyond your control, such as your child’s behaviors. Embracing a mindset of surrender and acceptance could indeed be the most liberating approach to usher in the new year.
As parents of children with different needs, it’s not that we lack hopes and dreams for the year ahead. Rather, we are wary of having these aspirations shattered. We’ve learned to be pragmatic and tread carefully when the calendar flips.
So, now that you have some ideas, what will you plan to implement in the coming year?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you found this post helpful, please feel free to like, share, and follow us for more insightful content on autism and ABA therapy.
If a positive, play-based approach to ABA appeals to you, we invite you to reach out to ABA Connect. The friendly team at ABA Connect is always ready to help answer your questions.
Please keep in mind that while I am a consultant writing on behalf of ABA Connect, my child is not a current client. The views and experiences shared in this blog post are entirely from a parent’s perspective. My goal is to provide informative content and insights based on my personal experiences, as well as interviews conducted with the staff at ABA Connect.