By Nicholas Sabula
When I started work on the American Military Families Autism Support project almost four years ago, I never imagined the amount of time and effort I would be spending on it.
The thing about passion is that it calls for investment in an outcome. Trying to help make a difference for our military families dealing with autism is serious business. Despite having a great team of people in this fight, it’s also quite draining.
A few months back came the realization that our family needed to take some leave. A lot. The magical number of 100 days of leave built up through the end of September (25 of those use-or-lose) meant some serious vacation time.
I honestly stressed about the time off as my wife and I planned our trip to Montreal, Canada, to visit relatives. As most of us know, vacation and autism doesn’t always mix well because normal routines and support is noticeably absent away from home.
It was also about ‘being out of the office’ so-to-speak. But the work schedule allowed for me to take some time off while the kids were out of school.
People have told me it takes about 10 days away from work to really get good rest. No all-hour Blackberry leash, no urgent coordination and no reports due were part of this itinerary.
While there would be no tiny umbrellas in my drink, the plan was simple: hit the road, stay offline, spend important time with family and, hopefully, recharge the batteries.
Of course, while the word break is inherent with stopping and time away, that doesn’t eliminate your responsibilities. As any parent, not necessarily one dealing with autism or multiple children, can relate to, vacation with family doesn’t equate to rest; it’s the small opportunities in this time that can.
We set out on the day the Senate Armed Services Committee was originally scheduled to meet on potential legislation for ABA coverage. I really wanted to be there in person to support Jeremy Hilton and others testifying on autism and ABA coverage to the subcommittee on personnel.
Reflecting on this trip, I thought of other longtime autism advocate friends who needed to go away, drop out of their advocacy role to focus on family and put priorities in order. Some have been gone a long time and I hope they will one day return.
I also thought of the fact that few of us have the luxury of escapism, saddled with military life, work, family, autism, special diets, therapies and the list goes on.
Through planning, packing, patience and tolerance, we were able to send some of the challenges autism presents on its own vacation somewhere else.
I recognize it’s important to have an objective to any break. Prioritizing, eliminating unnecessary must-haves and recognizing special moments for what they are can really make a difference when chaos is upon you. Look to remove a specific stressor.
Taking a break doesn’t have to be a trip out of country or long-planned vacation. Ten minutes of ‘you’ time can help in the same way as a power nap during the day. Get your mind off autism, what you haven’t accomplished and what you’ll never accomplish. You can do it through prioritization and remembering that the best way to eat an elephant is 1,000 small bites instead of one big one.
Breaks can entail taking a few minutes to stop and appreciate life. A great cup of coffee, small glass of vino, or even taking 10 minutes away from all your duties can give you new motivation and readiness to climb that mountain.
During my time away, lacking online time helped me reflect on the importance we place on persistence in our non-stop lives. Remind yourself it’s OK to step away for a bit, refocus, and re-attack.
For many a break from reality is to consistently check Facebook, Twitter, etc. Make the time you spend online valuable by making a difference for yourself and your family. If you are in a community such as AMFAS, engage the community and help it help you as a part of your day. You’ll feel better helping others, trust me.
Overall, the trip to Canada was a good trip for the family and really recharged the batteries, gave a different paradigm and helped to understand how I can contribute to our family’s autism fight.
However, even the best vacations can be ruined and make you feel like there was no break at all. Four hours after our 500-mile drive home was complete, we were victims of the East Coast storm that knocked out power for the next three days. Our son’s 8th birthday party was ruined and we lost two refrigerators of food, notably special diet items.
We endured this challenge and moved forward, using small victories to overcome what seemed like a complete loss. The party was rescheduled, USAA reimbursed us for food spoilage and even though I returned to work immediately following this tragedy, we’ve taken advantage of additional chances to get away.
Take an opportunity to catch a break –whether short- or long-term. It makes a difference for you and your family.