Addressing Your Autistic Child's Needs During & After Divorce

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Getting divorced is hard enough, and doing so when children are involved makes it worse. When a child is on the autism spectrum, this brings up additional considerations that should be addressed for the well-being of the youngster and the entire family. The child may have more difficulty adjusting to the changes in circumstances and even understanding what divorce is. It's essential for you and your spouse to work together as amicably as possible on a variety of issues.

Place of Residence

Children on the autism spectrum tend to dislike change and disruptions in routine. Perhaps the first factor to consider is an effort to keep the child in the family home.

If possible, the parent with primary physical custody can continue living with the child there. This will require an agreement to not sell the house, or at least to delay selling it for a certain length of time. If the person who continues living there must "buy out" half of the property value, you may have to create a legal arrangement in which that person makes a specified number of payments rather than paying the entire amount at once.

Shared or Primary Physical Custody

Your child craves structure in his or her schedule. An autistic child may not respond well to a shared custody arrangement in which about half of the week is spent with one parent and the rest of the week with the other parent.

If you really want to try this type of custody, encourage your child to establish routines in each home and be especially supportive on the transition days. Set the arrangement up legally in a temporary form so you can easily make changes if it doesn't work out. 

An intriguing possibility is known as bird's nest co-parenting. In this arrangement, instead of having children switch back and forth between two residences, they always live in one place. The parents take turns moving in and out instead. That can be particularly beneficial for an autistic child.

Parenting Calendar

A parenting calendar is useful for all divorced parents, but you and your spouse can especially help your special-needs youngster by having one. Point out all the routines that will not change. Understand if your child protests about changes that must occur.

You and your ex may have to divide up holidays, birthdays and other special events. Focus more on your child's emotional needs than on yours. Your youngster might become highly agitated or noticeably depressed at the prospect of spending Christmas away from home, for example. The parent who doesn't live in the family home might give up that holiday time and choose another special event instead. 

Stick with the same schedule as much as you can. A youngster with autism does better with predictability. He or she will appreciate being able to look at a schedule and know exactly what's going on in the days ahead. 

Financial Concerns

A divorce can lead to financial problems because there's no longer a shared income -- and now there are two households. It's important to make sure the child does not lose valuable support because of money issues. Child support may have to include an amount above and beyond what the law dictates if your youngster is to continue receiving different types of therapy and specialized education. 

Your Relationship With Your Soon-to-Be-Ex

If you and your spouse can't agree on certain issues, strongly consider resolving these conflicts through mediation. Your divorce lawyers can arrange the mediation process for you, during which an impartial individual -- such as a social worker or a lawyer experienced in mediation -- will help the two of you negotiate.

Even if you are not getting along at all, mediation keeps the relationship more cordial than if you were to have a judge decide matters in court. If necessary, you can use mediation services after your divorce is final as well. 

Consult with a divorce lawyer about your circumstances and begin doing everything you can to make this life change as easy as possible for your special-needs child.