The Metaphorical Oxygen Mask

Although some research has found that having a child with autism has a negative impact on the family (e.g., higher rates of divorce, greater risk of emotional problems in siblings), other research has shown that raising a child with autism can unify the family and make them stronger! One way to encourage resiliency in a family is through couple and family therapy. However, so little has been written on the subject. The one notable exception is an article published by Alexandra Solomon and Beth Chung in Family Process called “Understanding Autism: How Family Therapists Can Support Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”. The full article can be found here.

The article focused on how important it was for parents to take care of themselves and their relationships. The focus on self-care made me think of an oft used metaphor… Have you ever flown on an airplane and paid attention to the safety lecture the flight crew gives? The crew says, “If the cabin pressure drops, an oxygen mask will appear from the overhead compartment. Pull the mask towards your face, secure the strap, and breathe normally.” If you are traveling with children, what are the instructions? Do you attend to the children first, before taking care of your own need for oxygen? NO! Counter-intuitive as it may seem, you can only be certain of saving your children if you put on your own mask first. If you start with the child’s mask, you may run out of oxygen – out of consciousness – before you finish the task, and put you both at risk. If you put on your own first, you will stay conscious, and be able to take care of both of you.

So, I challenge you parents out there to start thinking about how you are taking care of yourself and the other relationships you have in your life! Do you have your metaphorical oxygen mask on so that you can be emotionally strong enough to help your kids with theirs?

– Megan McCoy

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