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With all of these obstacles to taking care of yourself as a special needs parent, it seems easier to just let it go. And sadly that is what most of us do. We look around and have very little left of ourselves, our health is often deteriorating and many of us are on an emotional roller coaster daily, but keep going. And we keep going until something gives. For me (and many other autism moms I know), the wake up call came after finally getting to the routine doctor appointment and realizing that blood counts were off, blood pressure was high, and overall nutrition and health were plummeting. There is study after study showing that moms (I think most of the studies have looked at moms specifically, but I am sure it applies to parents across the board) of children with autism are more likely to have heart attacks and more likely to have serious health issues. Much of this is due to the stress, the physical strains of being a full time caregiver, the almost guaranteed lack of sleep, and the constant worry. Many of us also develop bad eating habits. We either don't eat at all due to lack of time, eat unhealthy due to convenience, or overeat due to stress. All in all we simply don't have enough time. Not enough time to get to the doctor regularly, not enough energy or time for physical activity, and not enough time to destress.
I know not everyone is in the same situation and not everyone has even the small bits of freedom that I now have since our son with autism has started full day school. And if you would have told me when my kids were 4, 3 and 1 to take some time for myself I would have shot daggers out of my eyes and told you to come babysit. But I guess I want to encourage all of you in the moments of downtime (however fleeting) that you do get, to choose yourself. Try to budget for a sitter every once in awhile, find someone who regularly works with special needs kids and work through the separation issues many of our kids have. Look into respite options offered through your state or your insurance and support organizations that are lobbying for more respite care access and services for families. When respite or a sitter is not an option, take the five minutes in the car between appointments and put on music you like and enjoy a cup of coffee. If you're married and your spouse is able, have them take the kids even if they have worked all day...you've worked all day too. Go for the run. Get the massage. Go out with the girls. Take a bubble bath. Let a few things around the house go for awhile and save your sanity. Know that any time you can make for yourself you are doing it for you, but you are doing it for them too.