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 the 7 year old 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?
Dr. Jann says: In one word, communication. You HAVE to talk to each other and be on the same page with discipline and more importantly, scheduling. (ie: bedtimes, dinner times, etc.) Children with autism have a very difficult time with change and although the back and forth life may work for your 10-year-old, it may not be in the best interest of your 7-year-old with the Autism diagnosis. If the schedules are off or the unexpected happens, an Autistic child can be thrown for a loop, whereas your 10 year-old 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 10 year old. 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 your 10-year-old often and immediately share anything you learn about wither child with his other parent. 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.