We all know unhealthy coping strategies, like chocolate and wine, work great but have the unfortunate side effect of weight gain. I tried some other things.
What did NOT work for me:
1. Spending Money. After my son was diagnosed with autism, and before I learned to accept the situation, I desperately wanted to change the hand I had been dealt. I guess I also wanted to feel like I had some control. So I bought stuff. And I shopped and I shopped. I bought stuff at Home Sense and Home Outfitters to make my world look different. I tried Ikea and Solutions, hoping to get some structure back in my life. I tried every major retailer, searching for the stuff that would make my life normal again. While I spent lots of money, somehow I never found the quick fix. OBSERVATION: Nice stuff gets broken, and it does not change your life.
What Has Worked for me: Top 5
1. Singing. Being part of a choir gave me some “me” time while also helping me to feel connected to others and the music did lift up my spirits. OBSERVATION: This is a great option for parents who have a music background. Not so great if you cannot sing.
2. Exercise. (a) Running. I cannot overstate the value of running, for me. I joined a “learn to run” group to get started. I also read a few books about running that inspired me: “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall and “Chi Running” by Danny Dreyer. Now I run by myself on local trails. I enjoy the outdoors and I focus on my breathing, on relaxing my muscles, on my posture and on how my feet interact with the ground. In this way it keeps me in the “now” and helps me to not think about what has happened or what is going to happen in the future. Running has taken on a meditative aspect for me. It is deeply personal, repetitive and focusing. Running has given me personal goals that challenge me physically but that I can still accomplish in spite of the limitations imposed on my life by autism. OBSERVATION – while you can’t run away from your problems, you can still run! (b) Yoga. For me yoga has helped me mentally to relax, and regularly escape for an hour or so. It has helped me be a better runner by teaching me to be more aware of my body and to match my movements to my breath. OBSERVATION – the physical contortions of yoga put autism advocacy into perspective.
3. Peers. It is important to find somebody who can relate to your life situation. This can take some time and effort, when you are at the lowest end of the bell curve. What matters is that the persons you turn to for support can relate to your experience in a way that is positive, minimally judgemental, supportive and witnessing of your own experiences. Sometimes those relationships work in such a way that by working together families can find creative solutions for their kids. OBSERVATION – no matter how bad you have it, there are others who may be worse off.
4. Church. I found myself questionning God after Nicholas’ illness and subsequent diagnosis of autism. I did seek answers at church and through bible study, and it provided inspiration that helped me cope. One important concept that is particularly meaningful to me is the idea of “body of Christ” which is made up of us all. If we are all connected, then we are all important to each other. This concept has inspired me to go beyond the confusing and sometimes hard to deal with aspects of autism to focus on what lies hidden inside.
The other concept that was helpful to me as a parent was the idea of God’s time which is not the same as people time. While I don’t know what the future holds for my son, Nicholas’ life will unfold in God’s time. OBSERVATION – God is not your Fairy Godmother.
5. Humour It is possible to see humour in autism. There are many things that my son has done, classic autism things, even regular things for normal kids that are much younger, that are really quite funny, and it really helps if you can laugh at them, instead of getting embarrassed or ashamed. If that is not possible, there are always “sitcoms and funny movies”. For the technology lover, try ifunny! OBSERVATION: Good joke apps can entertain and relieve stress while waiting at the speech therapy office or medical appointment.