It happened. Despite everything, you lost your patience with an autistic child. Whether the child is yours or not doesn’t matter; the effect is the same.
I’m here to tell you it’s okay, and you will make it through. As long as you did not physically harm or maim the child, there is still hope.
- 4 things to do after losing patience with your autistic child
- Self-care tips for moms of autistic children
4 things to do after losing patience with your autistic child
I’m an autistic adult. People have lost their patience with me all my life, and I have lost my patience with autistic children.
This post is a safe space for anyone who has lost patience with an autistic child. I see you, and you are valid. If you didn’t care about preventing it in the future, you wouldn’t be here reading this shame-free post.
1. Forgive yourself.
One of the greatest forms of self-love is grace. You screwed up. You want to do better next time. That’s progress already, so please forgive yourself.
What do you drink when you’re stressed or worried? Go grab that, and then continue reading.
Kindness isn’t just what we deliver to others. When we are kind to ourselves, we are practicing self-care.
For whatever reason, you lost your patience on an autistic kid. Maybe it’s because, deep down, someone lost their patience on you and you learned that that kind of behavior is okay.
From an autistic adult (me) to the caregiver of an autistic child (you), it is okay.
2. Soothe your child.
Apologize. “I’m sorry I took my anger out on you. That was NOT okay. I will work on my emotions so it doesn’t happen again.”
Take it a step further by using this as a prompt to read a children’s book about emotional regulation together.
Be careful not to embrace your child too quickly. Let them warm up to you instead.
3. Brainstorm alternative behaviors.
Offer to engage in an activity together and assess what you both can do when you feel your patience running out. Coloring is a relaxing activity that helps calm oneself, even if they don’t color between the lines.
Keeping a tub of stuffed animals and other soft toys that can be thrown at the wall is a common therapy tactic that can be recreated at home. While just throwing the stuffed toys is acceptable, one exercise involves saying something that angers you before you throw it.
Showing your child that you not only made a mistake, but you’re working to change your behavior puts you on their level. They will relate to you more and learn problem-solving strategies with you.
4. Work on yourself.
Seek therapy if you find yourself constantly falling into the same pattern. Actions speak louder than intentions. Even if you are trying to do better, continually not doing better won’t matter and will create disconnect.
Autistic people often have wonderful pattern recognition, which means we notice the lies you tell us even if you genuinely believe you’re telling the truth.
Good intentions don’t benefit your child or prevent trauma, only actions can do that.
If you are losing your patience with a child, or anyone, it is a sign of emotional dysregulation. This is common in people who experienced trauma, even if they don’t remember it or believe they had it. It’s also common in people with mood disorders, personality disorders, dissociative disorders, and chronic pain.
In other words, anyone can struggle with emotional regulation. Human brains do not stop developing after 18 years of age, or 21, or even 25 years. Our brains continue developing our entire lives if we encourage them.
It is no one’s responsibility to help you sort out your interpersonal conflict except a therapist’s. That’s why they exist.
Working on yourself will help you become a better parent, and by better parent I mean better than the parent you were yesterday. The only parent your competition should be is your past self, not some mom on Instagram whose cream-colored house is always clean and full of the coolest new things.
Autistic children don’t need or want perfect moms. We just need real moms who love us. You are enough, but there is nothing wrong with personal growth.
Self-care tips for moms of autistic children
Are you losing patience because you’re exhausted and can’t catch a break? Here are five ways to practice self-care no matter how unruly your autistic child behaves.
1. Accept the chaos.
Accept. The. Chaos. It’s okay, if for only a short while.
It was 2021, and I had two toddler cousins spending the night with me. I thought cake for breakfast was a “cool” idea, as I enjoyed cake for breakfast.
I hadn’t yet discovered how to remix it so it tastes better without the frosting, so there was frosting. Within three minutes, my living room floor was covered in cake.
I retreated to sit on the kitchen floor while they ate their cake and watched Moana. When I returned home after returning their sugar-high selves to their mother, I took a nap and cleaned the floor.
I know I don’t have them forever, so it’s not the same. But I used to live with them year-round and I did the same thing.
It’s easier when you accept the chaos.
Chaos can be cleaned up. It is not forever.
Your personal chaos is okay, too. Chaos is not a result of your failure.
Years ago, I read a study about people who lived in chaos but maintained healthy interpersonal relationships. These people pursued what brought them joy and were happier than those who stressed about cleaning messes.
The study found that chaos despite an otherwise healthy lifestyle meant the person was focusing more on living and less on what they felt obligated to do. Obligations caused people to feel more guilt about living their lives.
Chaos is temporary. Do you want your relationship with your child to be as well?
2. Create a time for low-mess activities.
Cut different colored pool noodles into small, 1″ wide donuts and encourage your child to stack them. It’s a great STEM activity that encourages creativity.
This is also one example of an activity your child can engage in while you spend time on the couch or doing your own thing. Bonus points if you don’t have the TV on (except for music) and aren’t scrolling your phone — parallel play is an autistic love language and helps your child feel closer to you while developing independence.
It is okay to wear your own noise-cancelling headphones as well. Learn to spend time together, separately.
3. Hire a babysitter or let your kid spend the night with family.
You clearly need a break, and that’s okay. You’re not a bad parent for needing a break.
Normalize parents taking time for themselves. Imagine how much of a difference parents taking care of their needs could make. Might more parents feel less stressed and be more present with their children?
4. Engage in hobbies.
If your autistic child goes to school or daycare, sign up for a hobby class or go to a library near you.
Having something that is just for you while your autistic kid is engaging in their own activities gives you other adult interaction that is not just about your child.
I don’t like the term “special needs”, but:
Parents of autistic children often feel guilty taking time for themselves because their children have special needs.
There is no shame in taking time for yourself. You’re not a bad parent for doing so.
In my book, a parent taking time for themselves, to meet their needs so they can be a better parent for their child, is the definition of a good parent.
How do you take care of yourself as a parent, especially when you’ve lost patience? Share about it in the comments below. You are not alone.