The Westview School Blog
When it comes to parenting a special needs child, there are many things to consider: therapies, schools, medications, the list goes on. However, arguably one of the most essential therapeutic strategies to help your child is evaluating and caring for yourself. To have the physical and emotional energy to fulfill all the duties of a parent (especially an autism parent), you must make sure you are mentally healthy. How many times have we been on an airplane and heard the flight attendant advise, "in case of an emergency, secure YOUR OWN oxygen before helping others next to you." In the case of raising a child with autism, it is essential to "secure your own oxygen" before you can be expected to help your child. Parents who are stressed, feeling anxious about the future, or having depressed feelings about their child's current stage of development, are more likely to have trouble helping and supporting their child in the ways they need. If you really want to help your child, challenge yourself to make these parent coping strategies a habit:
1. Prioritize your self-care.
There's an old adage that says, "empty cups can't pour." Think about the things that fill your cup, and make time to prioritize them. Taking care of yourself is a selfless act because it sets you up to be in the best position possible to continue to advocate and care for your child's needs.
2. Engage with other Autism parents in the community.
You are not alone. Other parents and caregivers of children on the autism spectrum are going through similar situations as you. Expand your social circle to include support from other parents who understand what you experience. Shared experiences help build connections and can decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
3. Minimize anxiety by staying present.
The past is already done, and the future is not promised. Remind yourself to focus on today. When you worry about the future, you miss an opportunity to be grateful for what you have in the now. Be intentional about identifying what you are thankful for right now to help minimize your anxieties about the future.
4. Focus on your child's strengths.
Try not to focus on the negative. It is much more beneficial to focus on your child's strengths. There is no advantage mentally or emotionally to only see your child for the things they can't do. Knowing where your child's strengths lie and keeping them at the forefront can help you use that knowledge to supplement the areas where they need more support.
5. Plan time for fun.
All work and no play does not equal success. Sometimes your child (and you) need a break from it all. Taking time out from the hard work to laugh and play can improve your overall quality of life.
Remember, you are the most important person to your child, and they need you to be physically, emotionally, and mentally strong. Your child needs you to be strong enough to continuously advocate for their acceptance, accommodations, and inclusion within their community. Being strong doesn't mean that you won't have bad days. Improving your well-being doesn't mean that there won't be challenging times, but hopefully, these strategies will help you build healthy self-care habits and, in turn, will help you work better with your child at home.
Jelisa Scott is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and a Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA) in the state of Texas. She received her bachelor's in Psychology from Louisiana State University in 2010, her master’s degree in Behavior Analysis from the University of Houston Clear Lake in 2014 and is currently in school to earn her doctorate degree in School Psychology from the University of Houston. Jelisa has been working with children with and without special needs since 2008 and has gained experience providing in-home ABA services, parent training, classroom consultations, navigating ARD meetings, decreasing severe problem behavior, improving verbal behavior, social skills training, and early childhood intervention.
This blog post was adapted from the presentation given during WestviewEDU on Thursday, October 7, 2021. WestviewEDU is an education series presented by The Westview School for parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder. For a full list of WestviewEDU sessions for 2021/2022 academic calendar year, visit The Westview School online.
To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of The Westview School, the sons of founder, Jane Stewart shared a personal reflection of their early memories of The Westview School and what the legacy of 40 years of Westview means to their family.
A little over forty years ago our mother, Jane Stewart, brought us (Joey, Alan and Steven) all together in the family room and told us she was starting a school for children with disabilities. She had been volunteering at The Briarwood School for a few years and a group of parents came to her and asked if she would consider teaching their children privately. These parents recognized our mother's compassion and love for all children.
Overjoyed that Jane could now offer personal attention and schooling to a population in need of facilities, she turned our “game room” into a school during the day. We have many wonderful memories of coming home from school and watching our mother teaching and caring for her students. Often, we would join our mother rather than playing video games. That time was always very special to us. The parents were ecstatic, and the children made remarkable progress during the time they were with our mother in our home. In fact, one of our mother's first students, whose doctor told her parents she couldn't be helped, years later not only graduated from high school but was also prom queen. Our mother knew that amazing things were in all of us.
After a long discussion, our mother and father, Joel Stewart, decided to purchase a small house on Westview Drive in the Spring Branch area of Houston to expand the school, its facilities, and number of students. The Westview School was born as was the beginning of one of the most successful and ground-breaking schools for children on the autism spectrum in the country. This was a defining moment for our mother, one which filled our family with pride and love. The growth of the school meant so much to her.
As The Westview School evolved, so did our involvement as a family. Alongside our mother was our father, who not only gave his generous support to the school but also brought with him his financial and regulatory acumen. Additionally, throughout high school, we volunteered our summers working various jobs doing maintenance, painting, and building on the school grounds. The most rewarding was when we volunteered as teachers' aids, running with the children on the playground, helping with art projects, singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, and even happily laughing and getting soaked with the students on the slip and slide. These are the types of experiences that are so memorable and special to us.
The expansion of the school to its current location on Kersten Drive was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives. We were honored to have the late Barbara Bush preside over the opening ceremony. She graciously spent time with the students and recognized the importance of the school. This was an experience we will never forget. Most importantly, there would be a much larger school that could accommodate the growing population and could offer even more benefits to the students including a robust multidisciplinary team. Our mother made sure there was a small student-teacher ratio so that the current students received the same personal attention as her first students received in our game room.
The school expanded once again and added another building offering even more opportunities to students. Throughout the forty years, there have been many talented and brilliant individuals who have worked at the school and served on the Board to turn the school into what it is today. We are grateful that the school and staff have committed to the mission of our mom in providing a nurturing and positive environment. The teachers and the entire staff are dedicated and caring individuals. We continue to be impressed by the incredible work and enjoy watching the school and the students thrive.
Throughout our lives, we always felt that our mother was a miracle worker, and it really showed when she worked with children. Her caring, gentle and intelligent approach, based in love for each and every student, showed through at all times.
Joey Stewart is a feature film producer and restaurateur that lives in Dallas with his wife Laura, an interior designer.
Alan Stewart is happy to coordinate marketing and VIP programs for music, wine and NFL clients including Duran Duran, Matt & Kim, Westport Rivers Winery, and the Indianapolis Colts. He lives on a farm on the coast of Maine with his wife Lisa who is in the legal field.
Steve Stewart is a physician and Chief Medical Officer of a hospital in New Mexico and lives in Albuquerque with his wife Amy, a lawyer, and their two sons, Wells and Flynn.