Taking a Breather: Autism Respite for Parents


Respite. Noun. Defined as a short period of rest from something difficult. Otherwise known as a break, an intermission, a pause, a time out, or breathing space. Everybody needs a little respite now and then. However, for caregivers of children who experience a developmental delay, respite care is essential. 

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love my children. When I am out with my kids in public older people often stop and look me square in the face. They tell me, “Enjoy this time because it goes by so fast.” As their eyes twinkle with memories, I take a mental picture of our everyday routine and smile. But other days, especially when my kids were very young, respite could not come soon enough.

It was not until age three that my oldest son found his place on the autism spectrum. At the time, his little brother was celebrating his first birthday. It had been a year filled with sleepless nights for a variety of reasons. When I learned there were ways to get, “a short period of rest,” I could not have been more relieved.

When your child has special needs, it is hard to find quality child care so that you can get away and do the things that all parents need. Traditional facilities are not set up to support your child and Suzy down the street isn’t an option either. Sometimes, even family can’t or won’t step in to fill this gap. This is exactly where respite comes in.

Some people find respite through an in-home provider. During this time a specially trained caregiver visits your house and cares for your child. Because my son’s goals included social development, we chose to enroll him at St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development.  With the help of a social worker through Hennepin County, he was granted 12 hours of respite care each week, free of charge. For us, the classroom was inclusive, meaning students with a variety of abilities learned together. Teachers worked in teams with additional educators who focused on students with special needs. Together they did typical preschool activities but with extra therapeutic materials, techniques or support when necessary.

At the same time, we enrolled in Early Childhood Special Education through our school district.  Again, early intervention services were provided in a classroom setting free of charge, and aligned with my son’s specific needs. There were certain times each week he was visited by a speech therapist, occupational therapist and an autism specialist. As a team, his teachers, therapists, and I built a strong foundation for his elementary school education. By the time he entered kindergarten, his Individual Education Program (IEP) was active and reliable.

It was difficult dropping my son off at school. Both he and I were trying to understand his needs, and I lacked the trust needed to move forward in our autism adventure. After finding respite and building trusting relationships, we both began to feel refreshed in our time together everyday. Teachers and therapist gave my son the care he needed, while at the same time, taught me priceless communication techniques and answered my unending questions. They gave me a break and offered support.

Another place we found respite was through our church. This was a program that I did not know existed, until I needed it. I call them saints; Westwood Community Church calls them angels. Each Sunday, we meet up with our “angel,” a trained volunteer, that spends time with our son during the hour-long service. He can’t wait to go to Sunday school each week, and we love knowing that he is safe and supported.  Throughout the year, they offer respite programs for kids with special needs, and their siblings. There is no fee for these services, and you do not need to be a member to participate. Programs last for about three hours; just enough time for a quick date with my husband or to cross a few items off my to-do list.

If you are hoping somebody will put you in a time out, then respite care might be the answer. It is important that we take time on our own to breathe, smile, and remember how much we love our children. And sooner than we think we will be sharing our wisdom with younger generations, eyes twinkling with memories, because time has gone by so fast.

Where have you found respite?  Write a comment to encourage and inspire us! 

Author: Katie

Katie lives in Minnetonka with her husband and two boys. In 2010, doctors and educators diagnosed her three-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then she has been learning about autism, building community, and navigating the system.

Thoughts? Post 'em.

%d bloggers like this: