When Laura Brompton’s son, Bertie, was a toddler going through the assessment and diagnosis process for autism spectrum disorder, she says she needed a job she could do without needing to be emotionally invested.
She wanted to be able to walk out and leave work at the door.
“I didn’t have the emotional capacity to juggle Bertie’s needs with a job that would need me to focus my mind,” she says. “Bertie’s needs were the priority.”
She wondered how she could ever manage the stress of a career while raising a child with autism. She knew caring for her son would be demanding and expensive. She wanted to be fulfilled in her own work and be fully engaged as a parent. She knew some semblance of a work-life balance was going to be tough to achieve. But she was willing to adapt. So, she trusted her instincts and persevered until she found the right fit.
“When Bertie started school, I realized that I had a lot more time on my hands,” she says. “The job I was working in was weekends and early mornings, but I wanted to find something that would fit into Bertie’s school day so that I was always home when he was, and so I could take him to and from school.”
She wanted the same thing many parents juggling career and family do: a stable routine.
“For me, the best solution was to also work in a school,” she says. It was a change in her career path, but it was a way for her to strike a balance between work and home life. It gave her the freedom to be available when she needed to be.
Her son is almost 6 now, and she has found her niche working in a school and running “Bertie’s Journey,” a blog on Facebook documenting the frequent highs and occasional lows of Bertie’s life on the autism spectrum and their family’s day-to-day life in the United Kingdom.
While she doesn’t claim to have all the answers, she says these tips helped her transition:
1. Talk to your employer.
Finding an understanding employer is key to having the flexibility you need as a special-needs parent.
Academic studies, such as, “Daily Experiences Among Mothers of Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have looked at daily stressors parents experience, and researchers concluded that these parents need more support from employers.
“Make it clear to your employer that you have a child with autism spectrum disorder, and there may be times where that has to come before your work,” Brompton says. That opens the door to clear communication about expectations. And it opens up the opportunity for additional emotional support at work, where your employer understands the challenges you face.
2. Find a job you enjoy.
If you find joy in your work, it will reflect in the rest of your life, Brompton says. “It will help in so many ways and allow you a bit of time to be yourself.”
If you can’t find joy in your work, you may find yourself in a category researchers refer to as “parental burnout”—a phenomenon that can have serious negative consequences because a work-life balance seems so out of reach. Researchers see it as kind of a dying battery. When you can’t recharge, the whole family feels your zapped energy.
3. Establish routines.
Having good routines in place makes all the difference in keeping everything on track, Brompton says. Like many kids on the autism spectrum, her son thrives on routine. So she worked on establishing a consistent schedule. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some tips here about how to create consistent routines for your own family.
“Getting to work and caring for a child with ASD can be a tricky mix,” Brompton says. “Having a set routine will make this run a lot smoother.”
4. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
Even before the COVID pandemic, women took care of almost twice the load as men when it came to shopping, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids and parents in the household, a McKinsey Global Institute study found. And many women are burning out. Last year, a Women in the Workplace study indicated that one in four women are considering leaving the workplace or downshifting their careers.
Brompton says she has learned when to say when. Sometimes, managing the balance between a career and raising a child with special needs can be overwhelming, she says. Sometimes you need a support system.
“If things get too much,” she says, “reach out to people.”
Laura Brompton says her most important role is “mum to Bertie,” who was diagnosed with non-verbal autism, among other diagnoses, in 2018. She blogs at @bertiesjourney on Facebook.
Looking for more tips about balancing a career while raising a special-needs child? Read “Perspectives: Support Women in the Workplace During the Pandemic.”