Divorce can be a trying experience for all involved, especially the children; when children with autism are involved in the separation of their parents, it can require an additional level of care and understanding.
As parents navigate their divorce, they often want to understand what steps they can take to ensure they minimize the impact divorce may have on their autistic child’s daily life as well as their physical and emotional health over time. In this blog, we discuss how divorce can affect autistic children and how you can help them cope with your divorce.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. It is characterized by persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. Autism can vary greatly in its severity and symptoms, making it difficult to accurately diagnose.
People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language. They may also find it hard to interact with others in a meaningful way or maintain conversations. Additionally, people with autism may be hypersensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, smells, or lights.
It's important to remember that everyone on the autism spectrum is unique and experiences the condition differently. While some people may need significant support in order to live independently, others can lead independent lives and work in their chosen fields.
The Levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is typically divided into three levels of severity, based on the type and intensity of symptoms:
- Level 1: Requiring Support. People with Level 1 ASD typically require some support to manage their day-to-day activities, but they may be able to live independently. Symptoms can range from mild social awkwardness to difficulty understanding nonverbal communication.
- Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support. People with Level 2 ASD usually need more significant support to function in everyday life. Symptoms can include extreme anxiety, difficulty communicating, and a restricted range of interests or activities.
- Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support. People with Level 3 ASD often require extensive support for daily tasks and self-care routines. They may have difficulties with communication and social interaction, as well as repetitive behavior or limited interests.
How Can Divorce Affect Autistic Kids?
Divorce can be a difficult experience for any child, but it can be especially challenging for those with autism. Autistic children may have difficulty understanding the changes that come with divorce and may struggle to cope with the emotional upheaval.
Once you and your spouse separate or divorce, your everyday routine will change; changes in routine can have a significant impact on autistic children as they benefit from routine. This can make it hard to adjust to a new family dynamic or living situation after a divorce.
Additionally, those with ASD are at an increased risk of depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by sudden events such as divorce. Parents should monitor changes in behavior or mood.
How to Help an Autistic Child Cope with Parental Divorce
When divorcing parents have an autistic child, there are special considerations that must be taken into account to ensure their well-being. Parents should work together to create a parenting plan that is tailored to their child's needs and prioritize their child’s needs. It is also important for both parents to remain involved in their child's life (if it is safe for them to do so) and provide them with love and support during this difficult time.
The process and aftermath of a divorce can be confusing, scary, and emotionally draining on children with autism. Below, we outline some tips to help your child cope with the transition and your divorce. It is important to note that we understand that every child is different; these tips are just general.
Consider Your Child’s Unique Needs & Preferences
One of the most important things to remember when divorcing with children with autism is that they may have unique needs and preferences that need to be considered. Children with autism can have heightened sensitivities or difficulty with change, which means that you will need to speak to professionals or do some research to make the divorce process smoother. You can also ask your child's teachers or psychologists for recommendations on how to handle the divorce.
Try to Maintain Their Routine as Much as Possible
It is essential to maintain a stable routine that is familiar to the child, as it can ease the transition during the divorce process. Children with autism tend to need a consistent routine, as it helps them feel more relaxed and less stressed. Keeping regular school pick-up and drop-off schedules, sports practices, and mealtimes can help to decrease disruptions.
Encourage Open & Honest Communication
When you decide to divorce, it's important to be honest with your child. Divorce is never an easy thing, but children with autism can find change particularly tough. Depending on their age, you could explain to your child that their living arrangement will be different, or they will live in two houses. You must listen to their concerns and address them accordingly. If children feel comfortable expressing their emotions and ideas, it helps to reduce feelings of fear and anxiety.
Consider Joining a Support Group
For those who are divorcing with children with autism, it is recommended to join a therapy group or a support network. These communities are comprised of people who understand the challenges of divorcing with children with autism, and they can provide emotional support advice that can be especially helpful during this difficult time.
Get Help from Professionals
At times, assistance from a professional can be necessary. While family and friends can provide comfort, sometimes you need professional help. Consider any necessary interventions, counseling, or therapy that can help your child cope with the changes that may occur after the divorce.
Consult with Our Child Custody Attorneys
Overall, divorce can be a difficult experience for anyone, but parents of autistic children need to take extra care when going through this process. Autistic children, like all children, will require parental support to help them adjust as smoothly as possible.
The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc can help you smoothly navigate your divorce or child custody case. We can discuss your concerns and goals to better help you develop a plan and solutions that protect your rights and interests as well as the best interest of your child.
Call (949) 577-7935 to schedule an initial consultation today.