coParenting a Special Needs Child
Dear Dr. Jann– My ex and I have 2 children. A 10-year-old and a 7-year-old who is autistic. I have always been hands-on, especially with our youngest and now that he’s going between 2 homes, the adjustment is very difficult for him. How can my ex and I make this easier for or him?
Sincerely, Concerned coParent
Dear Concerned, coParent,
The simple answer is this… COMMUNICATION. You have to talk to each other and be on the same page with discipline and more importantly, scheduling. Discuss bedtimes, dinner times, discipline, and everyday activities to ensure both homes are consistent. Children with autism have a very difficult time with change and although the back and forth life may work for your oldest child, it may not be in the best interest of your child with Autism.
If their schedules and everyday functions are different at each house, it will cause a lot of confusion. Also, if something unexpected happens, an Autistic child can be thrown for a loop, whereas your older child may just take it in his stride. This introduces the possibility of two different parenting plans for your children, and although I am usually not in favor of this because it interferes with sibling bonding, it may be something to look at, depending on the severity of the Autism diagnosis.
If you don’t opt for different schedules, make sure each parent sets aside some one-on-one time for your oldest child so you can discuss the importance of having similar home lives at each house, whether with mom or with dad. When a child is diagnosed with special needs, parents often devote an inordinate amount of time to that child thinking the child without the diagnosis will be just fine–but they aren’t. They want attention from their parents, too, and may learn to resent their special needs sibling because they feel ignored. Check in with both children often. Ask them how they are feeling and what could make things easier for them. Listen to them and learn from what they are telling you. The more you both know, the better prepared you will be if you are faced with a crisis–all in the best interest of your children.