Self-care means many things to many people. It can involve everything from cooking yourself a nurturing meal to connecting with your community, but ultimately, we see it as taking the time to look after your physical and mental wellbeing.
The holiday season can be a challenging time for most families, but it can be especially challenging for families with Autistic family members. For carers, we know that a large amount of time, effort, thought and compassion is put into making sure your Autistic loved one is regulated and can enjoy the holiday season, too.
Autistic people and their families deserve a more autism positive society than we have. And whilst self-care doesn’t make up for the difficult and tiring systems carers often need to navigate, it can still be helpful to work self-care practices into your routine.
Just as it is important to ensure the Autistic person you care for is regulated, it’s important to ensure that you are also regulated. That’s why we’ve chatted with some carers to bring to you tips on self-care around the holiday season. Because if you’re not regulated, it’s even more challenging to help your Autistic loved one to regulate, too.
For me the holidays are for family time and to appreciate the time we have together in whatever form that comes in. For us it is seeing family and friends in a safe and supported environment, not trying to do so much stuff in such a short amount of time just because we felt we should but taking the time to enjoy the activity with the people around us.
We can’t enjoy ourselves if we are feeling we need to impress others or keep up with other people’s unrealistic schedules and expectations, and we understand that we need more time to do things. We need more time and resources to complete a task or prepare for an outing and that is ok. When we do this with people that understand us it takes the pressure off me as the carer to be all that everyone needs.
How I take care of my physical and mental health
During the holidays I schedule everything: who I am going to see, when I am going to see them etc. I make sure that I book in support workers or ask friends for support for each of the kids at the same time one day a week so I have time to do something for me outside the home. This is to ensure I don’t use my time to do housework. I will book time to have lunch with friends, too.
When I go visit my family that live away from me, I have a chat with them beforehand and ask if they can watch the kids for a few hours so I can go to a coffee shop and have some down time. When at home I don’t always have anyone to mind my children, so I organise an activity they can do on their own or with each other outside or in another room so I can have time to read a book.
Another way to get some me time is to put in my headphones with the music blasting and do a puzzle or do a deep clean of a room I have been putting off.
My tips on reducing stress and maximising enjoyment
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule. One of the biggest stressors for Autistic people is unpredictability, so the more you can schedule the better. It helps to know what is going to happen and give them time to prepare. And its ok to say “sorry, but we need to leave now to get to the next place”.
Make sure you book in sensory rest breaks for yourself and the family between places – this may be a stop at a park or a walk along the river, and gives everyone time to regulate before needing to deal with more people.
Have a bag or container of sensory tools in the boot or glovebox that you can access at any time. Don’t feel you have to say yes, its ok if you don’t see everyone on the same day.
My favourite part of the holidays
I enjoy the free time with the kids when we have the time to just relax and be us as neurodiverse people.
As a full-time working mum and carer, I save my leave when I can and take time off during the long school holidays. This is so I can enjoy time with my children and do activities at our own pace.
I also ask friends or family to have each of the kids separately so I can spend some mum one-on-one time with each of them and then have a day to myself or with hubby.
As the primary carer in a neurodivergent family and household, it can be hard at the best of times to find space for self-care, let alone around the holiday season! All the added stress means you can easily lose sight of what this time of year means to you and your family. For my little family, the number one important thing about the holiday season is spending quality time together and with our loved ones.
What that looks like for your family is most definitely something that you can set boundaries around. Doing this can make the holiday season an enjoyable experience for you, your family, and your loved ones. This is a BIG area of self-care in my life at this time of year. For those of you with children and teenagers, some boundaries that have worked for us during the holiday season are:
Safe spaces when attending Christmas gatherings – asking the host in advance and on the day for an area that can be used as a safe space for your children for when they become overwhelmed and need some “no people time” as my child puts it. Taking technology with you and headphones (if your child is able to use them) is another way for them to have some safe space away from the social side of the gathering. It may mean the difference between leaving within an hour and being able to spend a lot more time with loved ones. For my child, disconnecting from an overstimulating environment using technology is a healthy way to process excess sensory input.
Food – this is always a big area of stress for my child and has seen many meltdowns at social gatherings. So I just bring safe food. I let the host know in advance so they know they don’t need to include my family in their catering numbers. Yes, it means a little more work for you, however, in the long run, it will end up being less work. In a way it may give you time to enjoy yourself and maybe even relax a little.
Saying No – It is OK to say no to visitors and family. If you don’t want everyone over at your place or dropping in, say no. Perhaps even offer an alternative for example meet at a park your children are familiar with. A safe and neutral space to meet and catch up. Could even throw in a picnic and that ticks two of those boundaries off your list!
Most importantly you do you. You and your family are a unique group of extraordinarily beautiful neurodiverse humans. Revel in those moments of joy that are unique to you and celebrate your difference!
About Amanda Barton
Amanda Barton works at Amaze as part of the Autism Peer Assist (APA) program and previously the Early Days program. APA provides peer mentoring to parents of Autistic children, chatting about what autism is and what that may look like for children. In her role, Amanda supports parents with her lived experience knowledge, assisting them to link in with services and provide support with the NDIS.
In her spare time, she likes to read a range of different books – just not zombies or horror stories. Amanda likes to hang out with her partner and kids down the river or cuddle on the couch with a funny movie. Her ideal day off would be a sleep in, a day hanging out with the family and ending the day with a book curled up on the couch with chocolate after everyone has gone to bed.
About Bec Mullen
Bec Mullen is a Mum, Creative Maker, and passionate advocate for change from Brisbane. Not able to find a community that fit her homeschooled Autistic ADHD son, she created a community in her local area which is thriving and growing. A community of largely neurodiverse children and adults.
Bec continues to be an advocate for all children with learning disorders and/or who are Neurodivergent by working on consumer projects with government departments such as Queensland Health. Being a neurodiverse person herself, Bec understands how important representation is for families and giving a voice to those who don’t have or can’t find the words.
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