Why Your Family Needs Respite

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Respite is a temporary break or relief from something that is trying or difficult. Raising a child on the autism spectrum can be both trying and difficult. Maybe because you work so hard all the time you haven’t thought about respite, or maybe because you are so exhausted you haven’t had the time to consider it. Everyone needs respite, though not everyone seeks it out. Parents of children on the autism spectrum could truly benefit from respite.

So what does respite look like for a family who has a child on the autism spectrum? Respite can take many forms. Some children on the autism spectrum go to day or sleep away camps for a weekend, a week, or a month during the summertime. Alternatively, a respite provider can come into your home to be with your child for a few hours while you remain in the house and do the things you need to do (bill paying, laundry, etc.). Another form of respite involves going to a special activity for parents of children with special needs that provides childcare on site. Or someone could stay with your child while you run errands without child in tow or perhaps even go on a date night with your significant other. With respite care in place, some parents even go away for a long weekend or take a family vacation without having to modify the plans for their child with special needs.

A few nagging questions and thoughts may enter parents’ minds when they consider respite:

  • No one else can possibly do this! Some parents think, “My child is so challenging behaviorally… there is no way I can trust anyone else to care for him!” There ARE people in the world who have the tools and the desire to work with your child. It may take some work to find them and teach them about your child. Under their care, things may not be exactly the same as the way you do things, but most importantly your child is safe and well-cared for.
  • Guilt. Some parents feel guilty for wanting a break from their child. Stepping out for several hours may seem unfathomable. Please realize that caring for a child with special needs is difficult. Taking a break and doing something fun or relaxing for yourself will help you to refuel and be refreshed for the hard work you do all the time. If you do not take care of yourself, you WILL burn out and you won’t be there for yourself or your family.
  • How selfish! Taking a vacation with the rest of the family, without your child with special needs, may seem selfish. Going away with the rest of the family for a vacation, for a weekend, or even a week can seem unfair. However, the whole family could benefit from a break every very now and then. Try going to things that would not be fun for your child on the spectrum. For example, perhaps your child on the autism spectrum has severe allergies, which makes a visit to the zoo impossible. Use respite as an opportunity to give his brother or sister a chance to visit the zoo with you. Imagine your child who is not on the spectrum is a big baseball fan. The sibling on the autism spectrum, however, is simply not interested in the game; too many people make him anxious, the unfamiliar sights and sounds are uncomfortable for him, etc. With appropriate respite in place, these types of outings become possible and fun for the rest of the family. The whole family could benefit from this every very now and then.

Bringing in other people to help work with your child helps your child grow and learn! Other caretakers may have other ideas and think of new ways to motivate your child, or they may introduce a new activity that your child will enjoy. When you step back and allow someone else to help you, it can be fun and beneficial for all.

A small percentage of state government money is allocated toward funding respite care programs. Additionally, there are local organizations that provide respite for families. Visit the Resource Directory within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ to find resources in your area.

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Last Updated: June 4, 2020

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.


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