The struggle for work-life balance is not a new issue. More moms than ever are in the workforce and faced with the task of juggling a full-time job, while still having the time and energy to be there for their children. Now, parents with Autistic children are many times faced with even more demands, such as attending additional therapy appointments, behavioural issues to attend to at school, and their children not sleeping through the night. This can have a large effect on their work productivity and growth, and cause even greater issues for them in the future. So how do we balance trying to have a job? An occupation? And still be an autism mom?
Dr. Ali Griffith is no stranger to the overwhelming demands this can have on working parents. Being a mother of Zachary, who is on the spectrum, she faced many of the same issues in the workplace. “I remembered when Zachary was first diagnosed and I didn’t tell many people at my workplace that he was on the Spectrum….They may have seen [some of the signs] but I wasn’t telling anyone. I wasn’t walking towards anyone staying ‘Hey guys, Zachary’s now diagnosed. This is what’s going on in my household.’ I walked around a lot with a smile on my face but I was still going through so many questions. Why? How? Then, I was dealing with a lot of issues at home. One of the main things was that he was not sleeping through the night.
“His sleep pattern was so off..I’m talking 12 hours a night. How did that affect me at work? I was tired. I was constantly tired. I feel like there wasn’t enough sleep that I could ever get and then that also made me easily irritable.. because, you know, it’s kind of goes hand in hand.. if you’re not getting enough sleep then what’s going to come next is that you’re going to be easily irritable. So that was me at work just going through the motions, but I’m sure I’m wasn’t a pleasant person to hang out with.'”
Being not just an Autism mom, but an Autism Parenting Coach as well, Dr. Ali shares three tips to help those parents who may be overwhelmed by these challenges in the workplace. Some of the signs of an Autism parent may be: calling out from work early, coming in late, excessive tiredness at work. It is her belief that if we can educate employers, then we can start finding tools, strategies and tips that can help to make our environment more conducive.
Challenge: Excessive Tiredness at work
Do you often find yourself barely able to stay awake at work? Do you feel your eyelids drooping because you stayed up so late with your child the night before? As Dr. Ali stated above, she had her own experiences with excessive tiredness at work because of her son not sleeping through the night. This caused her to be tired at work, which would then affect her productivity and her relationships in the workplace. So how do you combat this?
Solution: Take a Break
“Use your lunch time to take a break… literally take a break. This may be the only time where you can go back to your car, put your head on the table and just take a nap. Make sure you eat a quick lunch because it’s important but just take that time to catch some zzz’s. Just make sure you set your alarm to wake up because you want to make sure you get back in time.” Sleep affects how productive you are in the workplace, and catching some extra sleep when you have pockets of time may help more than you know.
Challenge: Handling a work schedule with so many interruptions and appointments
If you’re an Autism mom, it’s likely that you have to deal with additional appointments or interruptions which may affect your routine work schedule. You may think to yourself, how am I supposed to get all of this done?
Solution: Talk to your boss or supervisor.
Dr. Ali suggests, “Sit down with your supervisor or and or your co-workers and say ‘Hey this is my situation at home, this is why my schedule can sometimes be off. How can I make that [extra time] up?’ You may have to come in early on some days, and other days you may have to leave late. There even may be days that you may have to work on a weekend which isn’t planned. I’m not saying it’s the best, [most] ideal thing to do but if you want to keep that job and if that job is very important to you then you have to think of alternative ways that you can give in time.”
It may be easy for your co-workers or supervisor to immediately assume your to blame for your poor work performance or odd schedule. They may surprise you and be more understanding than you think once you explain your situation more thoroughly and get them to understand that you’re not calling out late or leaving early because you want to but in fact because you have exceptional needs. Sometimes talking about it makes this process a lot easier.
Another way Dr. Ali makes the best use of her time is what she calls, “flex time”. “One of the things I like to do is use flex time..so whenever I know Zachary is with his dad or in therapy I use that time to try and get some extra work done.”
Challenge: We come across as a less desirable employee due to pent up emotions.
As an autism parent, it’s easy to feel as if you’re alone and not want to reach out to those around you about any challenges you face. The biggest issue with this, however, is that it comes out in other ways. “You can’t keep carrying this on your shoulders because it comes out as anger. It comes out as rage. It comes out as an employee that no one wants to work with.”
Solution: Dr. Ali suggests finding two or three people that you trust the most.
“You often see us alone. We’re loners. Kind of like our kids. Why? Because we don’t have anyone that we feel comfortable speaking to. We’re not really expressing what’s really going on at home so this is is an opportunity to find at least one or two people that you can talk to. Try and figure: ‘Who do you trust the most?’ and ‘How can I tell if a little bit more about my life outside of the work environment?’. Yes, I get it. Most people feel like work and home are separate but if you’re spending about 7-8 hours in a job then somehow the cross interference happens and how can you make it easier for you? In the end of all [of this], we’re trying to find out how can we make it a little easier for you… because when you go home you have other challenges to deal with.”
Dr. “Ali” Alisha Griffith is an Autism Mom, Communication Expert (Audiologist and Speech Pathologist), Best Selling Author, IGNITE Coach and Transformational Speaker and Trainer. She provides coaching to teach individuals and caregivers how to become effective listeners, foster stronger relationships and get ignited and focused. Her best-selling book can be purchased by clicking here.