How to Talk to Your Child with Autism About Divorce

January 03, 2017

As a parent, there are times in your life when you have to talk to your kids about uncomfortable topics: personal hygiene, the birds and the bees, and—for many families—divorce. It can become trickier when you need to address this with your child with Autism. “How much will they understand?” “How will this impact them?” There are many questions and concerns that you are likely to have. Read through this helpful guide for some recommendations about how to talk to your child with Autism about divorce.

Explaining the situation

When explaining the changes going on with your family, you want to state the facts instead of inching around them. Some examples:

“You won’t be living in the same house anymore. You will have two houses.”

Show your child both houses and spend some time making sure they are comfortable before having them spend the night at any new houses. Some children may find it helpful to have the same sheets or some of the same toys at both houses.

“You will still see both of us.” 

Make a schedule that your child understands and can see regularly. Go over it with your child and make it positive. “You get to go to Mom’s!” versus “You have to go to Mom’s.”

“We both still love you just as much as before.” 

Talk about or journal favorite things to do with Mom and favorite things to do with Dad.

The 3 C’s of Co-parenting

When co-parenting with a child with special needs, you must always keep in mind the three C’s: Communication, Collaboration,Consistency.

Communication:

  • Start by selecting a preferred method of communication about your child with your ex-partner (text, email, phone calls, etc.). You want to find something that will be as easy as possible for your situation.

  • Set up time to discuss the developments and needs of your child with Autism without children present. If possible, make this a regularly scheduled time so if doesn’t get pushed off or neglected.

  • Use a written communication log: While your child is at your house, jot down any new behaviors, schedule changes, new foods or words that you experience. Jotting these down as you go and handing them off to the other parent can create an ongoing log of important daily information. It can also help to see when symptoms start or pinpoint potential triggers or reasons for a new behavior if concerns or medical issues arise.

Collaboration:

Collaborating with other people in your child’s life is a critical piece of keeping the communication doors open and making sure that all team members are on the same page. This mostly comes into play with the school.

  • Discuss with your child’s teacher how to best reach both parents, and ask the teacher to communicate everything with you both to reduce miscommunication and/or one parent being left out of the school community.

  • Request two folders (one for each parent) and that all notes, newsletters, reports get sent home in both folders.

Consistency:

Consistency is of the most importance when co-parenting a child with special needs. Kids with Autism typically need more repetition and specific practice when learning new skills. It is important that both parents are teaching skills the same way and agree on the level of independence to strive for certain tasks.

Example: Bathroom Routine

  • If one parent is doing all the steps physically for or with the child, the other parent may have difficulty if they try to get them to attempt parts on their own. It may seem small, but your child will learn faster if both parents teach the same way.

Support

For local support systems for families with Autism, visit Autismspeaks. Here you can search for a variety of resources and support groups in your area.

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