Divorce is rarely an easy experience for anyone involved. Divorce can present more difficulties when you have children because their relationships with you are disrupted, or living arrangements may differ. If one of your children is on the autism spectrum, your divorce may be particularly challenging for them.
It’s important to put your child’s well-being first in this situation. Be patient with them. Keep their needs in mind, and aim to move forward compassionately in all circumstances. Let’s take a moment to explore a few areas you can focus on to make this process a little easier for everyone involved.
Dealing with Legal Matters
Divorce can be pretty complex from a legal perspective. Sometimes it can feel better to tackle the legal elements from a purely practical place. This might even be a way to protect yourself from painful emotional experiences. Nevertheless, it’s usually better to approach the law with compassion and empathy that puts your autistic child first.
Perhaps the most important area this applies is custody. Unfortunately, no matter how amicable your divorce is, it will change your child’s living situation. Wherever possible, try to make a custody plan with the minimum possible disruption, as this will likely be less difficult for a child on the spectrum.
It may not be easy, but you should aim to work closely with your ex on this. Make arrangements that keep a strong routine and structure for your child. This might not result in strictly 50/50 custody, to begin with. However, you can use more equal arrangements for your long-term plan.
Even legal arrangements about your property involve some extra consideration when you have a child with autism. For instance, the process of handling real estate during a divorce can depend on the state you live in and how they determine the division of assets. The judge in the case is likely to consider elements. This will include the length of the marriage, the balance of other non-marital property, and — most importantly — the needs of any children. You might find that the law usually awards the home to the non-custodial parent. In this case, be open to making other arrangements. Remember, it’s important to put the stability of your child’s living situation above property ownership rules.
An autistic child may find the change in the relationship between their parents confusing. They might also have a little difficulty processing or expressing their emotions. Not to mention that the logistics of the process can be overwhelming. As a result, one of the most important things you can do is to keep the lines of communication with your child clear and open.
Some aspects you should focus on here include:
Many children living with autism are more than capable of understanding what a divorce means. Yet, there are things parents might do that make it more confusing. For instance, it’s not unusual to tell half-truths about the situation or use vague language to soften the blow for kids. This might seem compassionate, but it can make things less clear for a child with autism. Be honest about everything happening and how it will likely affect their life. Also, keep inviting them to ask questions about anything they’re uncertain of.
Collaboration and consistency
Wherever possible, don’t make one parent the main communicator. The last thing you want is for your child to take this as a sign that the other parent doesn’t care or is not open to talking. Work together from the outset, including informing your child about your divorce. Firstly, it reassures them that both parents love them. It also prevents them from receiving conflicting information about the divorce and plans. If this isn’t possible, work together to ensure the information you give your child is always consistent.
Handling New Situations
A certain amount of disruption is unavoidable during a divorce. You might need to move to a new location, enroll your child in a new school, or navigate financial hardships. Some children with autism can find this quite challenging. New situations tend to fall outside their reliable structures and routines. As a parent, committing to carefully and compassionately guiding your child through these is important.
If you’re moving house, take the time to introduce your child to the new space ahead of the moving date. Make this a positive, reassuring, and fun experience. Walk them through the property and discuss how you’ll redecorate it or adapt it to their needs. Take a tour of the school they’ll be joining. It can also be helpful to explore the surrounding area to identify places or amenities that interest them. Make the area start to feel like home.
It’s also worth considering that taking the opportunity to declutter during a move can reduce stress. It can also create a clearer and calmer new environment for your child. As a family, go through the items in your home and discuss what’s essential to take with you or how difficult some pieces may be to move. Identify what can be disposed of or donated. Involve your child in this as much as possible. This can help them feel more a part of the process rather than simply having to deal with the results of it.
When parents of autistic children divorce, the situation can be more challenging. It’s important to address the legal matters of custody and property division in ways that cause as little disruption to your child as possible. It would be best if you also aimed to keep communicating with them in transparent and consistent ways. Remember that new situations may be difficult for them, so take the time to adjust to elements such as house moves gently. In all honesty, the divorce process is unlikely to be easy for anyone. Nevertheless, by being mindful of your child’s needs, you and your co-parent can move forward with compassion and positivity.