My Tips as a Special Needs Mum - From One Carer to Another
Firstly, thanks for the amazing feedback that I got after we published my story family’s story of autism last week. I was touched by some of the beautiful things that were sent.
This week I wanted to focus on carers; those incredible people that care for people that they love who have a disability or who are aged…. and the aspects to physical and mental health of carers that often aren’t discussed.
It may or may not surprise you (if you’re a special needs parent yourself, definitely not!) that it’s believed carers of those who have a disability have at least double the risk of mental health issue.
A 2009 publication in The Medical Journal Australia found that;
“Careers of those with a disability or those with a severe medical condition are at significantly great risk of having a mental health problem and lower levels of vitality than those who are not”.
Because of this finding, the same publication recommended that all GP’s and health professionals who were in contact with the person that had the disability should always check in with the carer on their welfare as well.
Caring for someone with a disability or medical condition can be really difficult.
Sometimes it can be relentless and it can also be isolating.
Sometimes it’s not just the caring of the person that takes the toll, it’s the sheer frustration of dealing with a system that means that the person a carer loves cannot access services that could help them.
Stress management is different for everyone but I will share with you my stress busters;
In past years I may have had an unhealthy relationship with exercise but these days I recognise the mental peace that a solid workout gives me.
Eat nutritious food that is full of life.
I get that it sounds a bit wanky but I know that if I eat too much processed food it effects my brain even before it effects my body. I am more likely to get edgy and have mood swings when I’m not eating nutritious food.
Strive for an attitude of gratefulness.
This can be quite the challenge but it definitely helps. Nightly, I try to ensure that I have thought of the things that I am grateful for that day and sometimes I journal this. This is an exercise that I often give to clients. Mindset is so important.
Have coffee with a friend.
I am very lucky in that my husband helps with the kids and this allows me to have an hour off here and there to catch up with someone. Caring can be isolating. If respite care is available then I would suggest you pursue it, even if it is only for an hour where you can sit on a park bench.
Ask for help.
The amazing feedback that I got from publishing my family’s story of autism made me realise that I could have asked a number of people for help along the way and didn’t. This is my lesson that I hope other people can learn from.
Yep, I know we do this all the time but actually breathing into your abdomen for 5, holding for a few seconds and then breathing out for 7 can change the level of stress in your body very quickly. Deep and mindful breathing tones the vagus nerve, which controls our stress response. Breath is one of the quickest ways to influence the nervous system.
I remind myself that my son loves me and he is having a hard time.
This is not meant as behaviour advice, more as a way of staying calm and not escalating. When I escalate, then the situation becomes even more stressful.
I practise self-care in other areas.
I take herbs for my nervous system. I get acupuncture when I can off the fabulous Sian and if I can get the occasional massage then I will do that too.
If you know someone that is a carer then just check in with them. Honestly even a 5-minute coffee date and quick chat can make a difference in a person’s life.
If you are a carer yourself then know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Don’t forget to engage in some self-care.
You do an amazing job and it is not selfish to care for yourself.
By investing in yourself where you can, it means that you are less likely to experience some of the mental health issues that carers are at risk of developing.
If you are not sure where to start here are some organisations;
Carers Australia is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of carers through important services like carer counselling, advice, advocacy, education and training. Their number is 1800 242 636.
Mental Health Carers Australia provide specialist mental health support to families, carers and their friends. Support includes: linking people to other carers who can offer face-to-face peer support, education services with other carers, and advocacy services which help carers to identify and find solutions to their challenges. Their number is 1300 554 660.
Carer Advisory and Counselling Service provide family carer support and counselling. Contact your state or territory branch of Carers Australia on 1800 242 636.
Autism Queensland is Queensland’s most experienced provider of specialised education and therapy for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They also run professional and parent development programs and school holidays programs. Their number is 3273 0000.
I hope this helps other carers like me out there, who might be feeling a little lost or overwhelmed.
And, I hope that this helps friends and families of carers to offer another avenue of support when it’s needed.
It’s all about awareness!
You got this.