Advice for parents of children on the autism spectrum

LisaMarie Bernardo

“I realized that parents are caring for their children 24 hours a day, but who is caring for them?” LisaMarie Bernardo, CLC

Ron Sandison interviews Life Coach LisaMarie Bernardo who is the mom of a son on the autism spectrum.

What has been your greatest challenge as a mom of a child with autism?

Some of the greatest challenges I experienced were the ignorance, judgmental comments and lack of acceptance from people. It is because of what I faced that I want to live my life educating people about autism and disabilities. There is so much for people to learn! It was tough to hear people say things to me like, “Your son has autism? But he can talk!”

It is vital that people learn that autism is a broad spectrum and differs from one child to another. I wish people were educated concerning different disabilities because that would lead to more support for families and caregivers that are raising children with disabilities.

How did you help your son develop communication and life skills?

My son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at five and since we believed in early intervention, we sought out an autism specialist to teach him social skills. He received weekly social skills lessons for three years.

After that, we went to a psychologist who specialized in autism and met weekly with him for about seven years. We have also been to approximately four psychiatrists for medicine management as well. We currently hired an autism advocate who helps us with any school challenges. My son talks to a social worker weekly. All of these resources have definitely helped my son.

What inspired you to be a parent support specialist?

In 1998, I studied at the University of New Haven and received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology. My goal was to become a child therapist, but right after college I got married and a year later had my son. Two years after the birth of my first son, we had another son. I became a stay at home mom until my kids were in school full time.

Once my kids were in school full time, I worked with children in the North Haven Public School system as a special needs paraprofessional. It was during these four years, that I saw other families raising children with disabilities who were drained and stressed like myself. I realized, that parents are caring for their children 24 hours a day, but who is caring for them? So I decided to contact a friend who works with autistic children. He suggested that I receive my certification in life coaching to help parents and caregivers raising children with disabilities. I decided to take his advice and went to Coach Training Alliance School. I am going on three years as a Life Coach and loving every minute of it.

What has been your greatest joy in helping families?

The greatest joy is hearing parents say they set baby step goals for themselves and through determination from life coaching, they conquered their goal. I love having clients tell me how much they’ve changed for the better; how better organized they are, how their self-esteem has increased and how they gained more confidence. Parents love the fact that they have a whole hour just spent for them. Talking with me is a safe, non-judgmental environment for parents and they tell me how much they love the support they receive.

What are some services you offer parents as a support coach?

I offer parents/caregivers help with stress/anxiety, time management, self-care, self-esteem, gaining more confidence, setting priorities within the home, creating action plans, developing better communication skills, self-understanding, better sleeping and eating habits, building stronger relationships and other personal goals they may have. Overall I help them be the best that they can be for their children.

Lisa with her family

What advice do you give to a parent whose child was diagnosed with autism?

First take a step back for a moment, relax and breathe, stay calm. Allow some time to process things. Have your child receive early intervention like Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Social or Behavioral Therapy.

Join social network sites or groups and connect with other parents. This is critical. I am actually starting up a parent support group online through Skype and there’s a support group already on Google + that I started. The group is called Parents Supporting Parents: A Safe Community.

Do not be hard on yourself. It is okay to make mistakes because that is how we learn.

Lastly, I would say that it is necessary to take care of yourself. Even taking just 5 minutes a day to sit back and breathe can help our bodies and our minds relax and process things. A lot of parents are afraid to take time for themselves because they feel that their child is the only priority. Yes, that is true but we can sometimes forget that if we are in a bad place mentally and physically we can’t help our child when depletion sets in.

How can parents benefit by having a parent support specialist and coach?

Coaches help the parents tackle one issue at a time. The issues are different for each client. But the goal is to take baby steps. We break a problem or goal down. We tackle each goal at a time. By having weekly sessions, coaches give the parents an escape. It is an allotted time of 45 minutes where parents can process life and their thoughts and take time for themselves.

What relaxing coping methods do you suggest to parents?

  • Wake up 15 minutes early in the morning to just breathe. Deep breathing helps the body and the mind prepare for the day.
  • Writing down all appointments is helpful. It is difficult to rely on our memory when we are so busy.
  • Another strategy is learning that it is okay to say “no.” Saying “no” to extra projects, social activities, and invitations can lessen stress.
  • Keep a diary or journal is helpful to process our emotions.
  • Be flexible. If the floor doesn’t get mopped, or the house doesn’t get vacuumed, it is okay. We have to be okay with the fact that we can’t do everything. We need to pace ourselves and prioritize.
  • Talking to a therapist, friend, partner or life coach is a phenomenal way to lower stress. After I talk with a parent in a session, I can hear the difference in their voice, they become less stressed and feel better for sharing.

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LisaMarie Bernardo is a Certified Life Coach that spends her life helping parents and caregivers in need. Visit her website at www.lisamariebernardo.com/. You can contact her at lisamariebernardo@outlook.com

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Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a Board Member for the Art of Autism, and an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website http://www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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