New research has shown that mothers of children with autism and behavioral problems have stress levels similar to military personnel in combat. The study, published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, reports that mothers of children and adults with autism who were observed for eight days were found to have extremely low levels of a hormone associated with stress. This hormone is also low in soldiers who had been through combat and people who are dealing with chronic stress. This low hormone level has been linked to chronic health issues.
So what can be done to help ease the stress for these families? Research shows that these mothers have less time for themselves are more tired and three times more likely to suffer from stressful events on any given day. They are interrupted at work more often than mothers of children without disabilities are, and spend much more time caring for their children. Respite is one solution that can help enormously. Most of these mothers find it difficult if not impossible to leave their child in the care of someone who is not qualified to look after them. This leaves little options for babysitters and fewer options for parents to get much needed time off. If state programs can provide better respite options for these parents, they will be able to get that rest and recovery time. In the state of Vermont, respite programs offer reimbursement for parents who need to pay professionals such as medical personnel or nurses to take care of their child in order to get a night off. There is a limit to how much can be spent, but the opportunity is there for parents. If all states offered such programs, these mothers could get the break they need and therefore, be better parents and community members.
In addition, more flexibility on the part of their employers would help to alleviate the stress parents feel when they are interrupted at work or they must take a day off to be with their child or meet with their child’s school.
In the meantime, here are some tips for parents who are dealing with such high levels of stress due to the care they are given to their child:
* Make sure you find a way to take some time for yourself and for your spouse and other children. Schedule an hour or two a week or a half hour a day for “time off” and stick to it.
* In the midst of all of your child’s doctor appointments, don’t forget to take care of your own health and visit your doctor for checkups.
* When possible, accept help from people who offer it.
* Seek support from other moms parenting children with autism or behavioral problems. There are local support groups available as well as online options.