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Divorce is difficult for any child to cope with, but for children with autism or other special needs, it can feel like the entire world is coming to an end. Their difficulty in handling change, troubles in communicating or expressing feelings, and the never-ending struggle to cultivate deep and healthy relationships can further compound this feeling and manifest itself in a number of ways, from regression of stemming behaviors to aggression, anxiety, or depression. Thankfully, there are ways that both parents can help their child cope with the divorce in the months leading up to it and the years after.
Make Your Child’s Needs the Priority in Your Divorce
One of the absolute best ways to help any child through a divorce, including those on the autism spectrum, is to put their child’s needs first. This means not arguing with one another in front of the children, never bad-mouthing the other parent, not using your child as a negotiating tool or a pawn, and working together to create a custody and visitation arrangement that will ensure your child still has much needed quality time with both parents. It can be difficult, especially when there are hurt feelings involved, but the result is always worth the effort.
Create Similar Routine Schedules at Both Homes (and Stick to Them)
If you have parented a child with autism for long, you know how important a consistent schedule can be. This does not necessarily mean that both households have to stick to exact times when it comes to dinner, homework, bath time, story-time, or bedtime (although it may); instead, parents may be able to simply set a rough flow schedule that is the same at both homes — homework then dinner, then bath, story and bed. This consistency helps your child know what to expect, no matter which house they are at, possibly making all the difference during the transition of having just one home to two.
Listen and Reassure Often
Children with autism have the same needs after a divorce as children without autism; they need to express their feelings and receive reassurance that they are still very much loved by both parents. However, when it comes to helping a child with autism express those feelings, you may have to provide the words through verbal prompting, emotion cards, or other emotion-identifying tool. You will also likely need to examine behaviors of your child and consider the possibility that they are simply an external display of what they cannot verbally express. When stemming, aggression, depression, anxiety, nightmares, outbursts, or other undesirable behaviors occur, be prepared to listen and reaffirm.
Avoid the Temptation to Spoil or Coddle
When dealing with the behaviors of a child with autism, or when realizing the depth at which a special needs child may feel the pain of a divorce, it can be tempting to spoil or coddle. Your own feelings of guilt can further compound this desire and may lead you to excusing poor decisions rather than delivering consequences as you normally would have. Your desire to ease the pain may lead you to make purchases you might not have otherwise made. Resist these urges. Remember that, more than anything, your child needs both parents to provide empathy, reassurance, and love.
Filing for Divorce? Contact a Qualified Family Law Attorney
If you or someone you love is planning to file for divorce, an experienced Hinsdale family law attorney can guided you through the process. Whether you need guidance in handling issues revolving around child custody, child support, or even aggressive advocacy in a domestic violence divorce, Martoccio & Martoccio, Attorneys at Law can help. For your free consultation, call 630-920-8855 today.