Friday, January 20, 2012

Divorce and Autism: Making the Best of an Unfortunate Situation

The myth that families of children with Autism have an 80% divorce rate was proven false by researcher Brian Freedman, PhD, clinical director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, as this article, Autism Families: High Divorce Rate Is a Myth, states. Despite the fact that parents of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder experience more stress, the rates of divorce remain similar to those of parents with neuro-typical children. Unfortunately, that does not mean that parents of special needs children do NOT get divorced.

So what is a parent of a child with Autism to do when they suddenly become an every other weekend dad or mom? The answer is the same I would give any other divorced parent; find a way to co-parent constructively. When couples with children divorce it becomes necessary for them to mindfully redefine their relationship. Remember that there are no ex-parents, only ex-spouses. Despite the fact that the marriage has ended the parenting connection will continue forever.

The best gift any parent can give their child in this situation is to make a conscious effort to redesign their roles, without conflict and negativity. This means:

1. Putting the needs of the children first.

2. Separating parenting issues from personal issues.

3. Establishing new boundaries.

4. Discovering a way to effectively communicate with one another.

This is much easier said than done but here are a few suggestions to keep you on track.

- Communicate regularly with your ex about the therapies your child is receiving and find out how you can reinforce them during your time together. Consistency is important for children on the spectrum and keeping schedules and routines as similar as possible between houses will help.

- Pay attention to your environment and try to look at it from your child's perspective. Taking your child's sensory sensitivities in mind try to create a space for him that will be predictable and comforting in order to make her feel secure in their other home.

- Be mindful of how your child handles the transitions when moving from house to house. Coping with a new situation takes time. Keep in mind that it will take her a while to settle in when first arriving from the home of your ex.

- Don't let guilt run the way you parent. Remain in charge. Your children need to know the boundaries and how to be responsible for themselves more than ever. Loving, positive rules create emotional order, which in turn allows character and love to grow.

- Create your own family rituals, they make great memories. This can be as simple as having regular family meals with candlelight, making bedtime a predictable routine with storytelling, or creating traditions for holidays and special events.

- Remember that love is not about externals. You don't have to be a Disneyland dad or an overindulgent mom. Spend your time, not your money, on making genuine connections that create secure relationships with your children. This will reduce the need your children may have to search for outside 'things' to feel valued and important.

- Manage your new home with the same close attention you give your job/career/ business. Remember, in this job, you are the boss and you run the household. Keep in mind how you would rate yourself on a performance evaluation.

Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Visit her website to get your FREE resources - a parenting e-course, Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive and a weekly parenting tip newsletter, The Spectrum.

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