Children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are already dealing with challenges that those without the complex disorder could not begin to understand. The varying degrees that it comes in can offer different challenges for different individuals, and for children, it is up to the parents to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to help their child in any way they need.
The varying degrees and types of autism are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behavior, according to Autism Speaks. It can be associated with difficulties in motor coordination and attention, intellectual disability, and physical health issues, and according to the organization, it appears to have its roots in early brain development.
Whether a child falls on the spectrum or not, future maturation is rooted in early development, but for a child in early development that is on the spectrum, the changes rooted in the divorce experience can be violently jarring to the child’s sense of safety.
Despite social speculation regarding the divorce rate among parents of children with autism spectrum disorder being at 80 percent, there is no evidence to suggest that children with ASD are at an increased risk for living in a household not comprised of their two parents, compared to children without ASD in the U.S., according to studies published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Telling your child
Parental divorce is never easy to hear about. One thing to avoid is waiting for a good time to tell your child with autism, that their parents are getting a divorce. According to Pathfinders for Autism, holding out on the news won’t make it less painful. Make sure you know what your post-separation plans are before you tell them, so they have a clear idea of what their future holds.
The organization recommends that you make sure to tell them together, so you do not end up giving them conflicting information. Setting the tone and having the discussion be age appropriate will allow your child to emulate your calm demeanor and allow for their questions.
However, make sure not to give more information than what they need to know. They’re going to be more concerned about their own lives and how your divorce is going to affect them. If your child is seeing a specialist of some kind, make sure to bring them in on the discussion.
One of the most important aspects to the discussion needs to be keeping the routine as similar as humanly possible. Children are creatures of habit, and the need for a habit for a child with autism is heightened. The safety and comfort of a routine and daily structure needs to be present in their lives.
Additionally, they need to be made aware that your love for them, as their parents, will not change. Their reaction to the news might require multiple iterations of the sentiment, but it won’t change the feelings behind it. You child needs to know that you plan on caring for them for the rest of their life.
Ironing out the details
Caring for a child with autism requires being aware of what their daily life entails and what type of care and support they’ll need. From a legal perspective, this means identifying the extra expenses of the child, since much of child support charts do not address these costs, according to Special Needs Alliance. These extra expenses account for an increased need for specialty medical care, non-prescription treatments, vitamins and nutritional goods, specialty medical services, and specialty medical equipment.
Without these expenses ironed out in divorce agreements, the custodial parent could find themselves having financial difficulty providing the child with the support and care that they need. Once the financial facets are ironed out, the custody and visitation aspects need to be handled.
The divorce agreement needs to include parenting instructions, regarding the child’s transition into adulthood in the future. Deciding who the child will live with and how much contact the other parent will have can give both parents the ability to keep things as intact as possible, for the sake of their child.
One way of going about this type of decision is staying communicative. When having a child with autism, it’s important to understand how much your child may rely on you for guidance when faced with the complexities and inconsistencies of the world.
Seeing two people who used to love each other and who made vows to love one another for the rest of their lives getting divorced and separating is an inconsistency, to them, that will require the parents to present a united front in helping the child transition to this new aspect of life.
Communication will allow divorcing parents to avoid the hurtles of family court and their misconceptions regarding autism and the need for a routine. For the child custody cases involving children with autism, however, routine and daily structure are not necessarily consider higher priorities by the courts, according to Psychology Today.
This is mostly due to the fact that most attorneys, judges, family court counselors, and custody evaluators in the family court system do not have a complete understanding of autism spectrum disorder.
In addition, the family court system does not fully grasp the fundamental challenges of transitioning from one parent or home to another for a child with autism. The impact on the child’s life is drastic. Psychology Today goes so far as to question how the family court system can be there to serve the best interests of the child with so little knowledge about the effects of autism on children, especially considering the autism rate in children is at one in 68, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Suffering from a divorce can be a challenging experience, but when you have a child with autism spectrum disorder, the experience shifts to the needs of the child. Putting those needs above pride, egos, hurt feelings, past histories, and all of the drama involved in a divorce will align your priorities with what really matters.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.