Raising a child with autism can be both challenging and rewarding.
Research shows that 1 in 54 children has autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism experience the world in a number of different ways. Many of them experience their parents’ separation and feel overwhelmed.
Co-parenting an autistic child does not have to be a burden. You just need to familiarize yourself with strategies for helping autistic children. Then, you can adapt your strategies to your new life.
It’s important to get the facts you need to help the children in your care. Here is your quick guide.
Explaining a Separation
Many children struggle to understand why their parents are getting a divorce. They feel upset, or they may want to be alone in order to process the news.
Children with autism are no different. You should loop them in on what is going on.
Children with autism are perceptive and introspective. They just express and process information in different ways.
Practice what you are going to say in advance. You can write notes or record a video rehearsing your thoughts.
Both parents should tell the child that a separation is occurring. If you each talk to the child individually, you each may provide conflicting information. You should both show that you will support your child for the rest of your lives.
Remain calm and clear as you’re talking. Do not cast blame on the other parent, and do not frame the separation as being one parent’s initiative. Explain that you both want something different in life.
Your child may have many questions. Answer them. Assure them that they are not the cause of the separation.
You can use a social story to help them understand. This is especially good for younger children or non-verbal individuals.
However, do not talk down to your child. Put things in age-appropriate terms.
Your child may react in a number of different ways. They may laugh or smile, or they may not show emotions at all. Be prepared for any reaction and provide calming activities for them after you have your conversation.
While you are negotiating custody, keep things as normal for your child as possible. Both parents should try to live in the same house. If that’s not an option, both parents should contact the child every day.
Most separations result in joint custody. Joint custody has many advantages, including that it keeps a child in contact with both parents.
If you were not in an abusive relationship, you should opt for some sort of joint measure. This will give a good structure for your entire family.
You can tell your child informal updates on how things are going, but don’t burden them with details. Keep them focused on school, friends, and therapy.
Update their therapist, doctor, teacher, and support staff about your separation. It is essential that all of you are on the same page. You do not have to give details, but explain why your child may be unwilling to participate in activities.
If your child is a teenager, keep in mind their rights during the separation process. Most states allow negotiators and judges to consider their wishes for custody and visitation.
While deciding upon child support, make sure you talk over terms for your child’s therapy. Everything should be provided for in the plan.
If your child needs significant help from both of you, a bird-nesting arrangement can work. In bird-nesting, the child stays in one home.
Then, the co-parents rotate living in that home based on their custody arrangement. While one co-parent lives in the family home, the other lives in another property.
You can also arrange to have both co-parents stay in the same home but in different parts of the house. This provides maximum continuity for a child with autism.
You can also use bird-nesting as a transition into joint custody. While you work out the final terms, you swap out while the child remains in the home. Once those terms are done, you can transition to 50/50 visitations.
Or, you can use bird-nesting as a permanent custody solution, which can be tricky. If you or your co-parent finds a new partner, it is difficult to manage a relationship while living in the same house as your ex.
Work over boundaries and conditions. In particular, figure out how daily expenses and housing costs will be paid.
One aspect to keep in mind? Bird-nesting can lead a child to believe their parents are getting back together. They may find it confusing that their parents are rotating out.
Explain the arrangements in terms they will understand.
You may find that bird-nesting is a great short-term solution. But in the long term, it can result in disputes with your co-parent. If that is the case, feel free to adapt, but make sure the whole family is on board.
Many children with autism struggle with changes to their routines. They can become upset when playtime is cut short or lunchtime comes later. Having to live somewhere else can be particularly troublesome.
Make the transition as easy as possible for your child. One way that can help is creating an extended custody schedule. If you share 50/50 custody, trade your child off every week instead of every night.
Develop a little transition ritual you can perform. It can be something simple as reading a book or going out for a walk. Be sure to maintain this ritual so your child understands that it signals a move to another home.
Give your child a calendar so that they know what the schedule is. Remind them of how many more days they will be at home with you. This gives them time to process their emotions.
If you do not decide on joint custody, you may decide one parent should have sole custody. The other parent will have visitation time, usually amounting to 20% of parenting time.
This can be disruptive to children with autism, who want consistent routines. Select a regular visitation time with your other co-parent.
Keep the time consistent and extended. Rather than having one weeknight visit every week, opt for an extended visit of a couple of weeks.
If you are the parent with visitation, make things as normal as possible. Give plenty of time for your child to do homework and pursue therapy. Integrate some fun activities, but act in a similar manner to your other co-parent.
Make sure the child can contact both parents whenever they want to. Your child should have phone numbers and email addresses for both of you.
The Process of Co-Parenting
Co-parenting by yourself does not have to be different than parenting with your former partner. Give your child the best tools out there to learn, play, and grow in a healthy environment.
Set boundaries and behavioral guidelines with your other co-parent. Decide how you want to discipline your child and teach them important skills.
Do your best to keep your child in the same school and with the same medical professionals. Too many changes at once can overwhelm them.
Your child may test your rules, especially if they want something like a toy or an unhealthy snack. Stick to your guidelines. Both co-parents should present a united and communicative front.
Engage in floor activities with your child. Many children with autism struggle to make eye contact. Get down on the floor and play with different toys.
Give them age-appropriate and sensory-appropriate toys. Some children have difficulty with textures, so select soft and adjustable objects.
When giving instructions, use smaller sentences. It can take a while for a child with autism to process long instructions.
Keep in mind that your child may ask about the other co-parent. You can talk about them, but be brief and respectful. Do not bash them or jump to conclusions about what they are doing.
Introducing New Partners
It is never a good idea to introduce your new partner to a child immediately after a divorce. It can be especially troublesome for a child with autism, as it can easily confuse and trouble them.
Talk to your partner about what sort of parenting role they want to play. They may be willing to get involved in your child’s life. They may want you to take the lead.
Whatever role they want to play, educate them on what life is like with an autistic child. Talk about your child’s development and what they do for therapy. Notify your partner about any behaviors like self-stimulation actions that they may find surprising.
When you make the introduction itself, keep things brief and cordial. Notify your child in advance about who they will meet. Let your partner talk for themselves, but intervene if your child reacts badly.
After the introduction, touch base with your partner. If they feel comfortable continuing a relationship, allow them to interact.
If your partner is of a different background than the other co-parent, your child may make an uncomfortable remark. Prepare your partner ahead of time so you both know how to approach the conversation together.
Introducing New Siblings
If your new partner has children of their own, you should also wait to introduce them. Even if you think they will get along, it can be overwhelming for everyone to meet new people.
Talk to your partner’s children. Tell them that your child may process things a little differently, but they can still play and talk together.
As with introducing your new partner, you want to preview the introduction for all parties. Provide a space where all of the children feel comfortable interacting with each other. It’s a good idea to play a game or read a book.
You can move in with your partner and their children, but do notify your child of your decision. In the new environment, hold to the old routines your child had.
Their new siblings may feel you are neglecting them, so make sure to spend plenty of time with all of the children in your care. Set aside activities you can do with those kids so they don’t feel alone.
Caring for Yourself
Raising an autistic child in and of itself can difficult. Dealing with a separation on top of them increases the difficulty.
Once you and your child have settled into your routine, make sure you take time to care for yourself. During times where your co-parent is watching over your child, do things you like to do. Travel, have dinner out, and pursue creative projects.
There are support groups for people dealing with a separation and raising autistic children. You can attend both. You can also speak to a therapist who can address both issues at once.
Talk to an expert about what you can do to help your child with autism. Every child with autism is different, and it’s important to get all the information you need.
Along the way, make sure that you take time to rebuild your confidence. Accept the past and celebrate the positives that are going on in your life.
Interact with your support network, including your child. They love you and want what’s best for you.
Find Success Co-Parenting an Autistic Child
Co-parenting an autistic child requires a few different steps. Both co-parents should explain the separation together. During custody, measures should be taken to provide normalcy and routine, like nesting.
Pay a lot of attention to creating smooth transitions. Provide time for your child to do normal things.
Take time introducing new partners and new siblings. You should also take time to care for yourself and reach out to others.
You can be a great co-parent once you have the facts. 2houses is the Internet’s leading service for co-parents. Contact us today for more advice and information.