Unfortunately, all too often, caregivers and parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience disempowering feelings of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. The term typically used to describe this challenging experience, shared by many in caretaking roles, is caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout can be debilitating for those it impacts, such as parents of neurodivergent children.
While raising a child on the spectrum can be an extremely gratifying and fulfilling experience, unfortunately, there’s no way to gloss over the dedication and effort it can require. Often, parents of neurodivergent children provide lots of unrelenting love and support while addressing challenges caregivers of neurotypical children never face. These demands often lead to higher stress levels and negative experiences, requiring a proactive, preventative approach.
This blog by ABA Centers of America explores the topic of caregiver burnout and its effects on the life of parents and caregivers of children with autism. Fortunately, Applied Behavior Analysis, also called ABA therapy, is a science-validated behavioral approach autism experts and pediatricians universally recommend to support children on the spectrum. ABA therapy establishes vital skill sets and redirects complex behaviors while highlighting their strengths.
For many families, ABA therapy is their first step in managing the more complicated features autism can present in families. Lack of social skills, independent functioning, or ability to self-regulate can hinder daily life for children and their families, too commonly resulting in caregiver burnout in parents compensating for their child’s challenges.
Join us as we explore the variables that often result in caregiver burnout and learn new ways parents can prioritize their wellness while still being available to their children when they need them most. Ultimately, healthier parents raise healthier, more regulated kids ready for whatever the future may bring.
What Is Caregiver Burnout? How Does It Happen?
Many people raising or caring for a child with a developmental disorder such as autism recognize it’s often a high-demand, round-the-clock task. Often parents raising neurodivergent children describe feeling personally neglected due to the continual oversight required to keep their kids healthy and safe. Unfortunately, many parents describe feeling guilty or shameful when they spend time caring for themselves.
Other parents may create unrealistic parenting expectations that are unachievable or unsustainable, leading to disappointment in themselves. While all parents can experience some parental stress at one point or another, caregiver burnout often feels continuous and unbearable, leading to further dysregulation.
While caregiver burnout is an uncomfortable experience for parents, sadly, its effects can also negatively impact children. In cases where parents become overwhelmed, exhausted, desperate, or filled with hopelessness, they can become less emotionally available, patient, and compassionate with their children, worsening matters for everyone. While fatigue and general low mood are primary indicators of caregiver burnout, other symptoms include:
- Low interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Agitation or hostility toward others
- Reduced impulse control
- Sleep disturbances, i.e., sleeping more or less than typical
- Appetite Changes
- Frequent illnesses
- Heightened stress, anxiety, or depression
- Role confusion
The term “role confusion” describes the difficulty some parents have separating from their role as parents, spouses, friends, or close companions. Role confusion often negatively impacts relationships and behavior over time, leading to long-term consequences for many.
Steps to Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout can feel inevitable when you have a child on the spectrum, but fortunately, it’s not. You can take many proactive steps to address caregiver burnout before it happens. Here are a few helpful tips to keep yourself feeling balanced:
- Educate Yourself about Autism.
By familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, you can be a more effective parent. When experiencing challenges related to your child’s condition, an established understanding helps you better respond to your circumstances. When researching autism, do your best to stick to reliable blogs with supportive, peer-reviewed evidence.
While sometimes having a neurodivergent child can feel isolating for parents, learning more can help them remember they aren’t alone in this experience.
- Communicate Your Feelings.
Suppose you’re feeling overwhelmed balancing your personal life with your role as your child’s caregiver. In that case, you may feel like you have a grip now, but long term, this is only sometimes sustainable. By confiding in someone you can trust, like a friend, loved one, colleague, or counselor, about how you feel, you can more deeply understand your experiences to ensure you have everything you need to feel better. Support groups can also be tremendously helpful for parents raising neurodivergent children.
- Prioritize Self-Care Practices.
Burnout is a topic covered extensively in psychology today, affecting many people in different roles. Currently, many practices addressing anxiety and burnout exist. By exploring various beneficial techniques like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to address the caregiver burnout you may be experiencing, you can find what works best for you. Parents find many of the following practices helpful for self-care in preventing caregiver burnout:
- Set aside time to unwind before bed
- Journal your tension or concerns
- Accept help or ask for it if you need it
- Set realistic, achievable parenting goals
- Manage and understand your limits
- Practice self-compassion
- Eat a nourishing diet
- Incorporate daily movement
- Embrace the positive aspects of life
- Laugh whenever you can!
Parents should remind themselves that self-care is not a decadent luxury but an aspect of healthy parenting. If you need help prioritizing your needs, seek outside professional support.
- Consider Respite Care.
Respite care is short-term care that relieves primary caregivers of their duties for a predetermined period. Services can range from a few hours on a random weekday to a few weeks a year. In most cases, respite care occurs at home or a respite facility. Certified professionals who understand the needs of children on the spectrum typically conduct respite care. In most cases, two different types of respite options exist, they are:
- Traditional Respite: This care addresses clients’ needs, like ensuring they wash their hands, use the restroom, eat, and manage daily life.
- Specialized Respite: This level of care includes all the services provided in traditional respite but additionally includes specialized services, like teaching and other activities. This care allows parents and caregivers to take time for their obligations while their loved one focuses on a specialty.
ABA Therapy Can Help Prevent Caregiver Burnout
ABA Therapy is another supportive approach to managing some of the more complicated features of autism that can result in caregiver burnout. ABA therapy teaches neurodivergent individuals valuable skills that lead to more autonomy to reduce their caregiver’s obligations and support over time. Skill acquisition in ABA therapy often improves:
- Fine and gross motor skills
- Daily living routines
- Coping skills and emotional regulation
- Reading/writing skills
- Social skills
- Visual and Spatial Reasoning
A core element of ABA therapy is positive reinforcement, which motivates and encourages learners to engage with treatment. ABA therapy encourages appropriate responding by rewarding accuracy and joint attention to improve the quality of life for clients and their families. Over time, ABA therapy makes life easier for the family, providers, and educators who may be at risk for caregiver burnout by addressing the challenges autism presents in a playful, structured way.
ABA Centers of America Improves Life for Caregivers!
At ABA Centers of America, our patient-centered approach utilizes evidence-based techniques to help children enhance their social skills, behavior, and communication long-term to improve their (and their families) daily experiences and overall life. Addressing these complicated issues and promoting more independent living for individuals on the spectrum through ABA therapy helps prevent caregiver burnout for many.
Long-term ABA therapy allows caregivers to participate in their own lives again while knowing their loved one has the support they need. If you or someone you love may be experiencing caregiver burnout taking care of a child or teenager with autism, don’t hesitate to call us at 844-923-4222 or click here today.
There are options for ABA support that can improve life for everyone touched by neurodiversity, including parents.