Human beings have tried to support their own safety, health, and wellness throughout all of humanity. People have performed rituals, consumed specific foods or herbal remedies, and have shared knowledge about health-enhancing strategies from generation to generation. However, self-care was not clearly defined until the late 20th century. The increase in rates of chronic disease was a primary factor in which society started to recognize the importance of the need to actively and intentionally care for oneself which then led to greater awareness of the concept of self-care.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is “defined as the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance in order to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being. ”Self-care is a person’s ability to reflect on their own needs, experiences, and behaviors while taking specific actions with the intention of supporting their physical health, mental health, and overall well-being.
Self-Care for Autistic Individuals
Self-care is important for everyone. It is particularly important for people with autism spectrum disorder. Self-care helps promote quality of life and personal well-being. People with autism are often met with many more stressors in daily life than neurotypical people experience. They often face sensory overload, difficulty with social situations, challenges managing everyday responsibilities, co-occurring mental disorders like anxiety or depression, and other pressures and stressors that many other people don’t have to cope with on a regular basis.
To combat the challenges and stressors that people with autism experience, it can be very beneficial for them to strengthen their self-care skills. Those who care for and support people with autism, such as their parents, caregivers, and therapists, can help them to develop self-care skills, as well.
Strategies for Practicing Self-Care
Let’s explore some strategies for practicing self-care for people with autism.
Connect with Others
Although many people with autism have challenges with relationships and social interactions, it can be beneficial for them to have at least one or a few people they can connect with on a regular basis. Connecting with others supports personal well-being by reducing feelings of isolation, fostering a sense of care, and motivating engagement in additional self-care practices to enhance one's health and well-being.
Find Relaxing Activities
It is important to participate in relaxing and calming activities for people with autism. This helps to regulate one’s emotions. It helps to regulate the nervous system, as well. Relaxing activities help people to manage stress and to improve their mental health and well-being. The specific activity will differ based on the person. Sometimes it can be difficult for people with autism to choose what activities they want to do. They might not know what activities they find relaxing, or they might have difficulty beginning an activity. It can be helpful to try out different activities to see what is most enjoyable.
Caring for One’s Body
Self-care entails tending to one's physical well-being, which involves activities such as showering, brushing teeth, grooming hair, and any other practices associated with maintaining personal hygiene and preserving a clean, healthy body. People with autism often function better when there is a system in place for the activities they need to do on a regular basis. They often do well with routines. To support self-care, people with autism should develop a system that works for them. This might include taking a shower on specific days of the week, brushing their teeth at the same time every day, and taking care of their hair at certain times in a consistent daily routine.
Pursue Special Interests
Part of self-care involves supporting your own mental wellness. To do this, a person might participate in activities they are passionate about. This is somewhat related to the recommendation we discussed earlier about participating in relaxing activities. However, it differs because some people might have special interests that aren’t particularly relaxing or calming. And specific relaxing activities that might help someone manage stress and be calm might not be related to their special interests. One core trait of autism spectrum disorder is that the person might have special interests or topics and activities they strongly connect with and enjoy spending time on. These activities should be a regular part of their life.
Explore Your Mental Health
People with autism should be sure to check in with themselves about their mental health. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. For example, people can take some quiet time to reflect on themselves. Or they might journal about what’s going on in their mind. People with autism often experience co-occurring mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression. If this is a concern, therapy can be a helpful resource.
Building Resilience for People with Autism
Stress and challenges are an inevitable part of life. The ability to bounce back and cope with adversity is referred to as resilience. Resilience is related to how we work through challenges in a positive way. People with autism can benefit from building resilience to support their health and well-being.
Building resilience can empower individuals with autism to navigate life's stressors and challenges more effectively. This enhanced resilience fosters self-confidence, diminishes anxiety, aids in handling social situations, and facilitates the acquisition of new skills.
Building resilience requires practice. One way to build resilience is to be successful at things. People with autism can use this strategy by taking small steps toward a larger goal. By having these little wins, the person can build resilience while being successful at learning something new.
People with autism might give up easily when something is difficult for them. However, it can be helpful for them to remember (and for those who care for them to remind them) that it is okay if something is difficult. That doesn’t always mean you shouldn’t try it. With the right supports and the right approach and by breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, people can be successful even with difficult things. It is also okay to have help and to try again when something is challenging or stressful.
Building resilience for people with autism is another way to promote self-care and is an essential component of building a good quality of life.
Martínez, N., Connelly, C. D., Pérez, A., & Calero, P. (2021). Self-care: A concept analysis. International journal of nursing sciences, 8(4), 418–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnss.2021.08.007