Parents with children on the spectrum are not allowed to get sick or die

December 12, 2012

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By Lisa Ackerman

I know, a pretty harsh title for a blog. But I wish I could write something as important as this and POOF make it a true statement.

You may be asking: what made me go to this topic? It is a simple answer - a story on TV is mirroring emails and calls we are getting at TACA all too frequently.  This story arc is from the TV show Parenthood that hits a cord: a mom of a child with autism gets breast cancer.

parenthood

It begs the question: Do parents of children with autism get sick more than parents of typical children?  I've not seen a study on parents. But it does make me wonder "Do parents of sick kids get sick too?" They are chips off the block after all (1.)

Sadly, at TACA we receive many notices of parents getting sick. The scary diagnosis include: Cancer. Diabetes. Autoimmune issues. Heart attack. Depression. Sudden death.  Even more sadly, these instances are coming more frequently. They terrify me. We always have feared what happens to our special needs children when we die? My second question: does it have to be so soon?

I know first-hand raising a child on the spectrum is stressful. There is a study on that (2.) As parents, we have to be proactive, deal with stress and health issues before they make decisions for us.

My advice: head off sickness and disease at the pass. Families need to take make the investment of time to get healthy. That includes parents and their children and everyone in your family. Even the one with an autism diagnosis.

It's not easy to start. I started with walking – I call those “the great explore!” I would get really excited and make a list of the items we need to find on the explore! Early on in the autism diagnosis we made it a game and it started with me being really excited about a walk and the fun we were going to have. (I know, lame!) But here is the funny outcome: it worked.

Other exercise & fun ways include family time start with the Wii or Xbox Connect game systems and moving games. Just move it together.  A great side bonus to exercise: it is a great stress release for everyone.

Over the past few years, I love that Jeff (now age 15) and I work out together. He is not excited about working out but he does it. We schedule it. He is happy when he is done - as am I. We run 5k, lift weights, and hills on the treadmill. We laugh and make it fun.  We make this a habit and our exercise giggles happen at least three time a week.

Here is a quick reminder: I am not a sporty, exercise person. I wasn’t a jock in high school. I made this a priority knowing it is important for my health and my family. This year I ran my first half marathon. We did it for TACA and many other TACA parents joined me. I didn't think it was doable but it was. Read how we went from couch potato to running on this blog (3.)

Something to also consider for our kids is organized sports and activities. I know that team sports may be hard for kids on the spectrum. Parents can try karate or dance for their kids on the spectrum and you may be surprised. Ask a provider to arrange classes for families and get in there with your kids.

The most important step is to start by starting. To help your kids on the spectrum understand use visual schedules and rewards. There are websites that can help with exercise ideas and schedule examples (4). I know this it is easier to start earlier than to start later. If it’s already later don't let that be the excuse. It is never too late to get healthy.

It's fun being healthy. It sucks getting or being sick.  Taking care of yourself is a really important step and a smart investment.

Our kids need us. Remember: Don't. Get. Sick.

 

 

References:

1) Many children with autism also have other health issues: http://m.healthday.com/iphone_article.htm?CID=0B3F45B2&NFID=C&articleId=668847

2) Post traumatic stress disorders in parents of children living with autism: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1750946712000359

3) Good health: couch potato to running:  http://tacanowblog.com/2012/07/09/good-health-is-important-for-everyone-including-parents

4) Autism & Fitness: www.autismfitness.com