Disclaimer: In this post, I assume that the split was not due to issues involving domestic violence, drug or alcohol addiction. I also assume that there are no safety concerns.
When a special needs family experiences the trauma of divorce, it’s exceptionally difficult. I don’t use the word trauma lightly either. .
When parents split up, it’s not easy for any child, special needs or otherwise.
I’m going to focus on the special needs kids side of things here because that’s where my experience lies. I would imagine that my experience could be applied to other dynamics as well but YMMV.
Kids on the Autism Spectrum thrive on stability and routine. They need that predictability to help them to feel both safe in, as well as navigate their world.
When parents split and divorce occurs, it’s exceptionally challenging for special needs kids because there are typically emotional and/or cognitive delays involved. This makes coping with, understanding and adjusting to these changed in their world, very, very difficult.
I’ve been dealing with this for the past 382 days and I can assure you, it’s no easy feat.
My situation is a bit more complicated and I don’t publicly share some of the details but I’m now rasing my 3 kids with Autism alone.
The kids still see their Mom every other Friday for an overnight stay and every other Wednesday for dinner. The visits are supervised by the boys Grandparents and I’m infinitely grateful for the role they play in this.
Visitation has proven to be quite difficult because my kids don’t deal with change very well at all and this is a significant change for my kids. Even 382 days later, it’s still very, very challenging.
There isn’t a day that goes by where my kids aren’t struggling as a result of their Mom leaving but life goes on and I’ve made it my mission to help my boys continue to move forward.
I believe that it’s important for my kids to have a healthy relationship with their Mom and I do everything I can on my end to ensure they have that opportunity.
There are a few things that can be done to make this easier for the boys and I thought it might be beneficial to share these points.
I’m no expert but I do have an enormous amount of experience over the past 15 years of special needs parenting. I also possess something called common sense and most of this stuff seems to fall into that category.
Here are some very important things that I try to remember when helping my special needs child adjust to this type of life change.
1) Be patient. Saying that their world has been turned upside down is probably an understatement. They will need immense amounts of patience and compassion during this very difficult period of transition.
2) Seek professional help for you and your child. A licensed therapist can help guide both children and parents through this difficult time. I would seek someone experienced in dealing with special needs kids because they’re often much more complicated than their typical peers.
3) Never speak negatively about the other parent in front of your child. Again, this should be common sense but we still have to tell people not to shake babies, so maybe it’s not.
4) Keeping in mind the disclaimer above, make sure your kids know it’s okay with you that they see their other parent.
5) Keep things as consistent as humanly possible. Make sure that at least the same core rules and guidelines apply between the different households. This can help with transitions.
6) Make sure your kids know that even though you don’t all live together, that Mommy and Daddy are still a parenting team that wants only the best for their children. Never fight in front of them. Treat the other parent with respect because kids see everything..
7) Make sure that your kids know and understand that the changes with Mommy and Daddy have nothing to do with them. They will need tons of reassurances that they are loved and that this wasn’t their fault.
8) In my opinion, it’s healthy for your kids to know that you’re sad too. Obviously, they shouldn’t be your shoulder to cry on but seeing you experience emotions in a healthy way could be a good example for them. Show them how you deal with being sad in a healthy, constructive way.
9) Never make the kids deal with adult issues. They don’t need to know what happened. They just need to know they are safe and loved.
10) Your kids should never be used as go-betweens or weapons to hurt the other parent. Even if you hate your ex, your kids should never know that.