This month's blog article was featured in the October 2022 issue of our digital newsletter, Aspire Wire. To receive future Aspire Wire emails, subscribe here.

by Stephanie Kramp
Aspire Parent

A few years ago, when our son entered adolescence, I was really feeling the impact of parenting someone on the autism spectrum.  My stress and anxiety were high, and my energy low.  I remember that though I was not doing well myself, my only thought was – how can I help my child?

We searched high and low to find assistance for our son, and we found the best of it at MGH Aspire.  The support and learning he receives from the exceptional Aspire staff and teen programs have been enormous gifts to our son’s well-being!  One day as I was marveling at these gifts while sitting in Aspire’s waiting room, looking and feeling stressed-out and exhausted after a long day of parenting, Dr. Scott McLeod, Executive Director of Aspire, saw my bedraggled expression and came over to talk to me.  He thought that I could benefit from some help too, and he suggested I meet with Elise Wulff, Senior Program Manager for Aspire.

The care and concern that Dr. McLeod offered me in that moment changed me and my family for the better in so many ways.  His kindness made me aware that the Aspire staff supports not just folks on the spectrum, but the parents and caregivers who love and care for them as well.  The experience opened my eyes to a truth that often eludes us tired and overwhelmed parents -- that it is as important to take care of ourselves as it is to look after our beloved children.  I made an appointment with Elise Wulff.

My work with Elise over these years has been both extraordinarily helpful, stress reducing, and deeply enriching.  She has been a wise counselor and an invaluable clearinghouse of critical information and resources to help me, my son, and our whole family.  The entire staff at Aspire places the same value on the welfare of the people on the spectrum as they do on the welfare of the families who love them.  We all matter!

The support and education I received at Aspire as a parent, empowered me to seek out additional learning about how I can take care of myself in the face of the sometimes-challenging job of parenting!  This search led me to complete a year-long course on the work of Dr. Stuart Shanker, Canadian researcher and child advocate and his book “Self Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life” (2016).

In his book, Dr. Shanker explains the link between excessive stress and emotional dysregulation, and how both lead to deteriorating behavior in kids/teen on the spectrum, and to parental exhaustion and burn-out.  He also explains how one can better self-regulate one’s own nervous system as a parent, which inevitably leads to our kid’s enjoying greater emotional self-regulation themselves and to their greater success in all areas of life. 

Dr. Shanker says, “The well-being of children is inseparable from the well-being of all the critical adults in their lives.” This statement became a kind of mantra for me.  As parents, we are the most critical adults of all.  Anything we can do to take care of ourselves and our needs, and to help ourselves stay calm and regulated, equally benefits us and our children! 

The help I continue to receive from Aspire as a parent, empowers me to take much better care of myself, which has helped everyone in my family.  I have learned that as parents of children on the autism spectrum, we can offer one another the gifts of understanding and compassion.  From the dedicated staff at Aspire we receive this gift too, and it comes packaged in unequalled professionalism, practical guidance and advice, compassion, caring and love – not only for our children, but for us as well.  All of this makes an enormous contribution to parental well-being and a better life for everyone.

To parent a child on the autism spectrum is to travel to the outermost reaches of love, commitment, loss, and joy.  I have learned that it is by taking care of ourselves along with our kids, and by receiving help from skilled, compassionate, and caring professionals like those available at MGH Aspire, we become deeply enriched by the parenting journey.