Parents of a child with autism often find themselves in a struggle to maintain a positive and fruitful relationship. Many such parents report unique strains in their marriage, such as less time to spend together as a couple and decreased patience with their spouse.
Despite the challenges that occur in families where at least one child has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 2012 survey of more than 77,000 parents found that the parents of a child with autism divorce at the same rate as other couples. Still, some children with autism do experience their parents’ divorce, and that event can have significant effects on their well-being.
If you have a child with autism and have chosen to divorce, use the information below to understand the unique challenges you’ll face and to keep your child’s needs a priority during the legal process.
Anticipate Behavioral Problems
The unique difficulties caused by autism — including behavioral, educational, and control issues — are likely to get worse during a divorce. Though a child with autism may struggle to communicate, most will understand that something is changing, and many will have a hard time understanding why the changes are taking place.
As a result of this confusion, some children with ASD may express their frustration with disruptive behavior, such as a meltdown or tantrum. The individual behaviors your child exhibits will vary based on their sensitivities and means of expressing themselves.
Before you announce the divorce to your kids or make any alterations to family life (such as one parent moving out), think about the reactions your child with ASD typically has to unwelcome news. Prepare yourself to experience these reactions more frequently during the transition from married couple to divorced individuals.
Minimize Disruptions to Your Child’s Daily Routine
The changes that accompany separation and divorce disrupt the vital routines children with autism depend on. Consequently, you and your spouse should both aim to create as few changes as possible. For example, do your best to ensure that your child will not change schools and that they will have time with each parent regularly.
Of course, some changes with divorce are inevitable. Make these changes more tolerable for your child with ASD by being very clear about what will change, why, and what your child can expect in the new scenario.
For instance, when your child is about to spend the first night in a new place, tell them about this change as early as possible. Then remind the child multiple times before the overnight stay, including on the day when the sleepover will happen. If you are the parent providing care at a new residence, keep nighttime routines as similar as possible. Enforce the same bedtime and do the same activities that help your child wind down, such as reading a story or having a nightlight.
Consider Your Child’s Needs in All Custody Discussions
In the best-case scenario, both you and your spouse are involved and loving parents who want to arrive at a custody agreement that serves your children first. In this situation, you should discuss plans for where your children will spend time and how they will be financially supported that take into account the needs of any kids with ASD. For example, talk about how you will pay for behavioral therapy, medications, and other treatment your child with ASD uses.
If your divorce involves any type of custody dispute and the court has to make decisions about your child’s care, make sure the unique needs that arise from ASD are clearly stated to the judge. Your lawyer may want to bring in a child psychologist or psychiatrist to testify about which treatment methods are essential for your child’s well-being and therefore should be part of a child support agreement.
Help Is Available
These divorce issues may exhaust a parent who truly cares about their child with autism. Contact the Law Office of Greg Quimby, P.C., to learn how our legal team can support you and create a divorce agreement that considers your exact family situation.