“I wish I could find more support for us as autism parents. I know that we need it, but … I just don’t have the time to seek it out.”   

If you’ve ever made a statement like this, you’re not alone. Many parents of children on the spectrum feel the same way. Over and over, you hear that it’s important to prioritize your own aid. And in theory, you like the idea of going to an autism support group or receiving more help.

Yet somehow, it’s just not happening. The demands of family life – not to mention your child’s needs – take precedence. And at the end of the day, you’re tempted to give up on the idea altogether.

But are you really as busy as you think you are?

As time management expert Laura Vanderkam writes in her Fast Company piece, We Aren’t Busier. So Why Do We Think We Are?, most men and women aren’t working significantly more hours than they did in the 1960’s.

However, our felt experience of time has changed dramatically. Vanderkam notes:

“… The sheer volume of modern distractions may make life feel busier than it is. Constantly trying to do two things at once means you can feel pulled in multiple directions. You can be working a regular 40-hour-per-week job, and check work email five times at night while eating dinner or watching TV. At just two minutes at a pop, that adds a mere 10 minutes of work, but can pollute whole hours.”

The multitasking experience she describes is familiar to modern parents. And when special needs come into play, the list of to-dos climbs, along with the experience of being pulled in multiple directions.

Journalist Brigid Schulte refers to this increasingly common experience as “contaminated time” in her bestselling book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. It’s an especially prevalent issue for parents who juggle the demands of traditional jobs along with home and family responsibilities.

Contaminated time arises from multitasking, trying to take care of several areas of life at once. It’s the feeling that you get when you’re trying to send a time-sensitive email, supervise your child’s homework, and talk to your friend on the phone at the same time.

Given the myriad responsibilities that come with being a special needs parent, it’s understandable that you’d feel pressed for time! So in this post, we’ll focus on ways for you as parents to find autism support when you feel like you can’t fit one more thing into your day.

1. Change your perspective and reframe your own needs.

First, look at finding support not as another item to add to your list, but as a wise investment. What if finding aid for yourself was a responsibility as fundamental as caring for your child, one that you couldn’t afford to skip over?

Our blog post A guide to autism support for parents states, “The investment you make in your own support during this time will pay dividends for years to come.”

We know how it goes: it can be so much easier to seek additional help for your child than for yourself. But what if you considered your own support as a key element of your child’s success?

In his bestselling book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Wharton professor Adam Grant observes that people with giver tendencies (that is, good parents!) often fall into the trap of putting their own needs last. However, with one key mental shift, givers can reclaim power and lobby effectively for what they need.

What’s that shift? A simple pivot from self-advocate to other-advocate.

When parents like you view seeking their own encouragement as part and parcel of their child’s care, they are empowered to find it. In Give and Take, Grant quotes one family man who discovered this truth in his salary negotiations as saying:

“The solution was thinking about myself as an agent, an advocate for my family. As a giver, I feel guilty about pushing too much, but the minute I start thinking, ‘I’m hurting my family, who’s depending on me for this,’ I don’t feel guilty about pushing for that side.”

So when you’re on the hunt for your own support, begin by reframing the process as a service for your entire family.

2. Consider your personality type, stage of life, and what matters most to you.

Just as every child with autism is unique, every autism parent has their own individualized needs. So as you look into finding your own help, honor your personality, energy level, and preferences.

For example, if you’re extroverted, invest in attending an in-person or phone-based autism support group where you can process your experiences and speak with others. You need the interpersonal contact and are energized by it.

If you’re an introvert, you might well enjoy and benefit from a traditional support group, but perhaps on a less frequent basis. And if you’re spent from interacting with your child or co-workers all day, you might find that you can conserve your energy better within the context of an online group.

Then again, many introverts who work from home need the structure and socialization that a regular group provides. So experiment with different options and figure out what works for you within the context of your particular lifestyle.

Likewise, know that you’ll probably need different forms of assistance as you move through your autism journey.

In one phase, you might need a lot of help with navigating doctors, insurance providers, and school systems. In another period, you might want more encouragement in dealing with socialization skills and behavior management.

You’ll probably find a lot of common ground with other autism parents, but you may also have times when you feel like the only one dealing with a particular issue. That’s okay; both feelings are totally normal.

Either way, your challenge is to accept yourself and your child exactly where you are today, and then find out what will help you both to move forward.

3. Recognize that you can get help in getting help!

When it comes to finding the right services for your child, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or spend hours researching every single available option. Instead, ask qualified personnel to point you in the right direction.

As we wrote in our blog post An easy autism plan for busy parents:

“As you identify the skills you need to practice with your child, invest in resources and support. Know that you are not the first parent to walk this path, and that you can rely on the knowledge and experience of those who have gone before you.”

When you go directly to knowledgeable sources, you shorten the process of securing help. This week alone, you could save yourself hours of time (and personal struggle!) by:

  • Asking a direct question at a meeting
  • Attending one targeted training from a qualified professional
  • Placing one phone call to a case manager
  • Inviting fellow parents to offer suggestions
  • Joining an online or in-person support group and asking members for help

Our video library provides hours of professional ABA therapy lessons, which can supplement an existing program or serve as a starting point for you and your child.