Mental Health Tips for Parents of Preschool Kids With Autism

By Sheryl Frishman, JD, LMSW

Clinical Supervisor & Director of Parent and Community Outreach, ACDS Westchester

We are in unprecedented times. In addition to all of the daily worries and struggles, as parents of young children with Autism, the difficulties added with the coronavirus, being stuck at home, all the uncertainty, our children’s behavior, virtual learning, and basically just trying to keep our household in order can be extremely anxiety provoking. Feeling anxious, sad, alone and even helpless are normal feelings during this difficult time. This is not easy.

Now, for just a moment, I want you to STOP reading and take a deep breath in and then breath out. Please do this several times. I promise we are going to get through this!

Here are some mental health tips during this difficult time:

Acceptance. Acceptance is necessary during this time. Try to accept that we will not have all the answers for the foreseeable future. Also try to accept that you are doing the best that you can at this moment. Finally, try to accept that this is a really hard. Acceptance does not mean that you are ignoring your feelings. Instead, it means holding your feelings and still being able to move forward.

Limit the flow of activating information. Social media and the news inundated us with information prior to the coronavirus. Now, in particular, the flow of activating information is everywhere. For those who have anxiety or are developing anxiety this constant news cycle can be overwhelming. The more we have access to this information the more easily it is to remain in an activated state, and it can exhaust our nervous system. I recommend setting up a scheduled time to check in with news daily because of course it is wise to remain informed. However, try to only check in during your scheduled time. You may want to set up a buffer, i.e., time away from activating sources, before bed and before you attempt to spend quality time with your family.

Mindfulness. It is a huge buzz word because it works! Mindfulness does not only mean meditation. While creating a meditation practice is a worthy goal, mindfulness can also be found in smaller, attainable changes. In this context and during this difficult time mindfulness refers not to emptying the mind, but to being present in the moment. Worrying about the future is not going to help and only cause more anxiety and stress. Paying attention fully to what you are doing in the present moment with purpose and intention is something that can really help at this time. If you find your mind wandering, that is okay – noticing that IS being mindful and then gently return you mind to what you are doing. If you feel yourself becoming activated there is a short mindful exercise that I find very helpful – Square Breathing. Take a minute and center yourself by doing this it will be helpful.

Square Breathing

(you can also find videos on YouTube showing this technique):

1. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four slowly.

2. Hold your breath inside while counting slowly to four. Try not to clamp your mouth or nose shut.

3. Begin to slowly exhale for 4 seconds.   

4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 at least 3 times for a total of 4.

Special Needs Resources in New York

14Y Inclusive Youth Classes

14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street at 1st Ave

14Y’s Inclusive Youth Classes are back in-person to keep your child active and engaged after school and on weekends this spring! Youth Classes, for children ages 3 to 12, are open to all abilities including children with disabilities/special needs or children who need any additional support. Taught by professional teaching artists, youth classes give your child the opportunity to hone their skills and express their creativity in a focused, supportive setting.

Current offerings include ballet, soccer, tennis, watercolor, and comic book making, and are rolling admission and prorated. Learn more and register today at Kenny, Manager of School Year Youth Programs, Contact or call 646-395-4339 for more information.

Atlas Foundation For Autism

Atlas School
252 W. 29th St., 3rd Floor, New York

The Atlas Foundation for Autism houses the Atlas School as well as speech, OT services, music, after-school classes, and weekend social skills groups! Atlas is different in its approach to working within modalities that address communication, emotional and social thinking, as well as behavior and self-esteem!

Camp Huntington

56 Bruceville Road, High Falls, NY

A co-ed, residential program for children and young adults with special learning and developmental needs. Their summer camp and weekend camp programs are designed to maximize a child’s potential, locate and develop strengths and hidden abilities. Your child will enjoy the fun-filled days of summer camp while learning practical social and life skills. They offer a unique program approach of adaptive therapeutic recreation, which combines key elements that encourage progress: Structured programming, nurturing care, a positive setting, and academic instruction to meet IEP goals. Their campus is located in the beautiful hamlet of High Falls, NY, within the Catskill Mountain region.

Camp Lee Mar

l 450 Rte. 590, Lackawaxen, PA

Lee Mar is a private seven-week residential summer program for campers ages 7-21 with special needs. They offer a unique curriculum incorporating a strong Academic and Speech program with traditional camp activities. Careful study is made of parent input, school (IEPs), camper interview, etc., so that the interests and needs of each child can best be determined for suitable grouping prior to the camper arriving. At Lee Mar the children find comfort and friendship with children of similar age and functioning level. They work hard at improving the daily living, social, and life skills of their campers, while giving them the happiest summer of their lives!

The IDEAL School of Manhattan

314 West 91st Street
New York, NY 10024
212-769-1699 ext 10209

Experience The IDEAL Difference at a Virtual Open House. The IDEAL School of Manhattan is New York’s only K-12+ independent inclusion school. In their diverse and nurturing community and within their robust academic program, IDEAL students recognize their potential to effect change and are equipped with the tools to do so. They strive for excellence in and out of the classroom and recognize and draw out the potential for excellence in their peers. Learn more about their unique program at a spring virtual open house: Lower School (K-5), April 8, 9 AM;  Upper School (6-12), April 15, 9 AM;  Kindergarten, April 23, 10 AM;  Next Steps (Postsecondary), May 7, 10 AM

The Keswell School

331 West 25 Street
New York, NY 10001

The Keswell School is a specialized private school offering an intensive therapeutic 40 hour school week in small classrooms with a 1:1 student to teacher ratio. The day includes all aspects of learning from communication and academics to play, socialization, community and life skills. We use a multi-disciplinary team approach of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech therapy, and Occupational therapy in which the disciplines work cooperatively to advance the student’s ability to communicate, learn, and manage behaviors. Our goal is to love our students for who they are while continuing to push them to achieve their goals toward independence. For more information contact Ivy Feldman

Westchester School

45 Park Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703

The Westchester School is a New York State approved, non-public school that provides educational and therapeutic services to students from New York City, Westchester County, Long Island, and Connecticut.  The school views all children, regardless of functioning level or handicapping condition, as children with potential for growth and development. Historically, educational programming, particularly for the severely handicapped was primarily concerned for easing the burden of those who cared for these children. Changes in legal standards and socio-philosophical perspectives made this an excessively limited and limiting approach. The rationale for program and selection of educational objectives is based upon the developmental needs of the individual child.

Yellow Bus ABA

Home and Center Based Care throughout NY, NJ & CT
Center in Westchester
845 327 7111

Yellow Bus ABA is a therapy group providing consultation and intervention services for individuals of all ages who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They have drawn upon the unique strengths of their highly experienced team of behavior specialists to employ scientifically validated teaching methodology, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), to bring quality care and intervention with lasting results. Yellow Bus ABA offers home and center based care.