Autistic children thrive on routines and need a lot of extra coaching to get through changes. That can make divorce — along with the frequent transitions from one parent’s home to the other’s for visitation — particularly rough on them.
It doesn’t make things easy on the parents, either.
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, here are some tips you can use to make transition time go a lot more smoothly during visitation:
1. Use visual and verbal reinforcements.
Put a calendar up on the wall where your child can see it and circle the days he or she will spend with the other parent. Mark each day that passes off the calendar with your child so that he or she always knows how far away visitation is and how long it will last. Ask your ex-spouse to create a similar calendar at his or her home and do the same.
2. Have a transition toy or object.
Autistic kids often become very focused or attached to a specific item or items. If that’s the case, make sure that item goes with your child during each transition. If there’s no specific item that your child wants to take (or your child wants to leave his or her favorite item with you for safekeeping), consider adopting a “special” item that’s used just for transitions. A stuffed animal or soft blanket, for example, can be the perfect “friend” to take on those overnight trips to the other parent’s home.
3. Work with your ex-spouse on a routine.
Try to work out a specific routine for your child to follow at both parents’ homes. The routine doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective. For example, it could be something as simple as following a specific pattern before bedtime to create a sense of security and “sameness” in both homes.
Above all, remember to keep your own attitude about visitation upbeat and positive in front of your child. Autistic children can be incredibly sensitive to the cues you’re giving off, so you want to send the message that everything is — and will be — just fine.
If you’re having trouble negotiating a workable custody and visitation plan with your ex-spouse, find out more about your legal options.