Self-care is vital when looking after your child with additional needs

I have written about this topic before, but I wanted to revisit it as we approach the beginning of the second half of the year.

If your first six months of 2024 have been anything like ours then you have been spending your time, fighting for resources for your child, attending appointments and managing the ups and downs that are common in children with additional needs.

We all know that everyday life as an additional needs parent is tough. We don't need research to tell us that it often leads at times to feelings of isolation, grief and anxiety. As we look after our children, finding the time to look after ourselves is often the last thing on your list of priorities, but learning how to look after your mental and physical wellbeing is essential, if we are to avoid what some call caregiver burnout!

I’d like to spend some time looking at why it is crucial for parents to prioritise their own health and well-being in order to effectively care for their child on the autism spectrum.

As parents of children with additional needs, we face unique challenges that can take a toll on our physical and mental health. From managing those appointments and therapy sessions when we get them, to meeting the day to day the diverse needs of our kids, the responsibilities can be overwhelming.

While we may not think so, this all takes its toll our body and mind.

I’d like to look at various ways in which we as parents of children with additional needs can look after our own health.

Don’t be afraid to admit you are not ok

First and foremost, it is important for parents to recognize the signs of burnout and seek help when needed. Parents of children with additional needs often experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and fatigue due to the constant demands of caregiving. It is essential for parents to understand that it is okay to ask for support and take breaks when needed. Seeking therapy or counselling can also be beneficial in helping parents cope with the emotional challenges they may face.

A healthy lifestyle

Not easy I know, but another important aspect of looking after yourself is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting an adequate amount of sleep. Parents often neglect their own needs in order to prioritise their child, but it is important to remember that self-care is essential for overall well-being. Making time for activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies or spending time with friends, can also help to reduce stress and improve mental health.

 Don’t let your Doctor be a stranger

Parents should make time for regular medical check-ups and screenings. It is common for parents of children with additional needs to neglect their own health needs in favour of their child’s, but it is crucial to prioritize one’s own well-being. Regular visits to the doctor can help to catch any potential health issues early on and ensure that parents are taking care of themselves.

Establish a support network

Another important aspect of looking after one’s health is finding a support network. Connecting with other parents of children with additional needs can provide a sense of community and understanding. Support groups or online forums can be a valuable resource for parents to share their experiences, seek advice, and find emotional support. Parents need to build a strong support network in order to navigate the challenges of caring for a child with special needs.


Practicing mindfulness and stress-reducing techniques can help parents manage the daily demands of caring for a child with additional needs . Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help to reduce stress and improve mental well-being. Taking time each day to focus on self-care and relaxation can have a positive impact on overall health.

It's good to talk

It is also important for parents to communicate openly with their partner or co-parent about their needs and concerns. Sharing the responsibilities of caregiving and seeking help when needed can help to alleviate some of the burden on parents. Setting boundaries and embracing self-care can also help parents maintain a healthy balance between caring for their child and looking after themselves.

So, what steps can parents of additional needs children take now to protect and improve their own health?

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Seek support and self-care:

Parents of additional needs children may experience significant stress and exhaustion. It is essential for parents to seek support from friends, family, therapists, or support groups. Taking time for self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies can also help reduce stress and improve well-being.

Establish a routine:

Establishing a daily routine can help parents of additional needs children manage their time, energy, and resources more effectively. This can help reduce stress and chaos in the household and improve overall well-being.

Prioritize sleep:

Sleep is crucial for maintaining good physical and mental health. it is key to factor in getting enough sleep each night, even if it means seeking help from a partner, family member, or caregiver to take over caregiving responsibilities during the night.

Maintain a healthy diet:

Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for maintaining good health and energy levels. We should seek to eat whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains to support their overall health.

Stay active:

Regular physical activity is important for both physical and mental health. Parents of special needs children should find ways to incorporate exercise into their daily routine, whether it's going for a walk, practicing yoga, or participating in a fitness class.

Seek professional help:

If parents are struggling to cope with the demands of caring for their child, it is important to seek help from a therapist or counsellor. Professional support can help parents manage stress, emotions, and challenges related to caregiving.

Take breaks:

It is important for parents to take breaks and prioritize their own needs. Whether it's taking a short walk, reading a book, or meeting a friend for coffee, taking breaks can help parents recharge and improve their overall well-being.

Parents of children with additional needs face unique challenges that can impact their physical and mental health. However, it is crucial for parents to prioritize their own well-being in order to effectively care for their child. By recognizing the signs of burnout, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, seeking support, practicing mindfulness, and communicating openly with their partner, parents can take steps to look after their own health. 

It is essential for parents to remember that self-care is not selfish, but rather a necessary part of caregiving. By taking care of themselves, parents can ensure that they have the strength and resilience needed to care for their children with  additional needs.

I hope these ideas help and I wish you all health and happiness as you grow and nurture your children.

Autism Dad Ireland