Divorce is hard on kids, but much more so for kids with ASD because they cannot process why Mommy and Daddy won’t live in the same house anymore. Since they already have a difficult time with social interaction and personal relationships, it becomes especially confusing to the ASD child when parents split. If parents are not careful about making custody and placement decisions, the ASD child will suffer more than usual during and after a divorce.
More and more judges and lawyers are becoming familiar with autism and autism spectrum disorders. They are recognizing the impact it has on children who need consistency and stability in their lives in order to feel more secure. Parents who fight over where their child with ASD is going to live are actually jeopardizing that child’s sense of security. The ASD child will begin to lash out, become aggressive and stressed, be emotionally charged and have more frequent meltdowns. To them, their whole world is falling apart and now they are expected to go to Daddy’s on certain days and times and live with Mommy the rest of the time, or vice versa. Although this isn’t the best option already for kids who are not on the spectrum, it is the worst for kids who are.
If you, as a parent, are going through a divorce and are worried about your child with ASD, you need to fight really hard to keep your child living in one location to maintain consistency. That is not to say you should deny your ex of his or her rights to see your child, but instead offer liberal visitation and shared custody. Primary physical placement with one parent is the ideal situation for these children, but they need both parents in order to continue growing socially and emotionally. This is a very difficult thing to do, since some parents are quite insistent that children should split their time and living quarters between parents, but it isn’t a suitable option for kids on the spectrum, especially those who are high-functioning enough to understand some of what is going on.
If you are having difficulties with custody issues and your soon-to-be-ex, make sure you hire a lawyer who has experience with disability cases who can also schedule a hearing with a judge who is equally experienced and familiar with autism and ASD. Whatever your ex’s argument is regarding physical custody, the judge should be able to persuade him or her that it may not be in your ASD child’s best interests to toss him or her to and fro between two residences. Also, if you can prove that your child does not adapt well to change and has issues with transitioning between homes and transitioning in and out of other locations and situations, that may help solidify your case to keep your child in one home or the other consistently.