Prioritize Your Needs.
Kaylene is a mom to six neurodiverse kids who has autism herself and has made it her mission to help parents of autistic children be better parents, advocates, and autism allies. She hopes that by creating the space that she has on her site AustisticMama, that a more accepting and inclusive society will arise. It is likely that parents of neurodivergent children have to over-exhaust themselves in order to keep their children regulated. It's common to assume that as parents, you have to push your needs aside in order to meet those of the rest of your family, but the reality is that serving everyone else does not mean that you have to ignore yourself and your own needs for self-care. In her blog post titled, "Dear Parent of a Neurofamily: Your Needs Matter Too" Kaylene addresses how you might have gotten to the point of ignoring your needs and the steps you can take to begin to prioritize yourself again. She focuses on how you can do that without self-care or ignoring your kids' needs. She also notes how to navigate the inevitable guilt that creeps in when you begin to recognize that you are a human and you have needs too. Many parents put aside things like peace and quiet or the ability to eat when they want or at all, and many more. The first reason that these situations happen is because parents had to accommodate their children first. When your kids are in a state of dysregulation, anxiety, and struggle, it is likely that you drop everything to accommodate, which is okay. But, when this happens over and over then the reality becomes that you haven't had a quiet day in who knows how long. The second reason for getting to this stage that Kaylene acknowledges is that kids literally need you to ignore your own needs in order to survive. This scenario can be seen most frequently when the children are young or have needs that require you to do things like change diapers, feed them for every meal, bathe and clothe them. In cases such as these, you end up sacrificing things like sleeping, bathing, or feeding yourself to serve your children. In doing so, you will eventually find yourself in a place where you have dropped everything in order for your children's survival. All of this is par for the course when it comes to parenting a neurofamily. Kayelene emphasizes that if you are in this place, you didn't do anything wrong, but she does provide tools to start prioritizing your needs a bit more. The mission is not to meet everyone else needs while also attempting to meet your own, we are striving for co-accommodation here. This means that each member of the family is working to meet everyone's needs, rather than the one shouting their needs the loudest being served first. First, pick your one thing. Identify one thing that actually matters to you and feels doable. Examples of your "thing" could be having an hour of quiet, eating at least two meals a day, getting yourself out in the sun at least once per day, or rest when you need it due to a migraine or stomachache, etc. When picking this one thing, you want to ensure that it works for your family and matters to you. If you just haphazardly pick one thing just to say you picked something, you won't feel the benefits, so choose something that is really important to you and your needs. Next, you should create an accommodation plan. Ask yourself: "If it was my kid who needed this one thing, what would I do for them?" Create a plan for your thing that is similar to what you would do if you needed to make a plan for your neurodivergent kid. To make this plan work though, you need to be aware of and prepared for the possible results. Think through what the worst and best possible outcomes could be if your family follows this new plan. For example, maybe your child has a meltdown because they can't talk to you in a moment when you are trying to implement your new thing... what is your plan for dealing with these scenarios? How are you going to make up for time lost if you have to tend to your children when trying to do your thing? Lastly, Kaylene addresses how to deal with the guilt for prioritizing your needs. When you try to constantly live in the phase of dropping your needs and accommodating your kids so they can become regulated, burnout is probable. The reality is that you cannot take care of anyone when you are burnt out. Recognize that you are a human and all humans deserve to have their needs met. The goal here to create a space of co-accommodation; a family where everyone's needs are met, including your own. Plans such as these teach your children how to adapt and become good humans. One day, they will have teachers, caregivers, significant others, etc. who will meet their needs but will also need some of their own met as well. If your children can learn to accommodate you, their parent, then they will learn to accommodate others in society as well. Create the plan and try your very best to stick with it. Burnout is not fun and it is not ideal for your family's survival or happiness.