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Divorce and Autism

Divorce and Autism

World Autism Awareness Week ran from 2nd to 11th April. According to figures from the NHS there are approximately 700,000 people in the UK with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals with an ASD can be anywhere on the spectrum, and symptoms vary widely in both nature and severity.

Divorce is never easy for children and as family lawyers we ensure our clients understand that the needs of their children are of paramount importance. When a couple do decide to end their relationship and they have one or more children with an ASD, whether suspected or diagnosed, it is important to consider certain factors that may prove particularly difficult for children with an ASD.

Diagnosis

If a child in the family has not yet been diagnosed with autism, their behaviour may be displayed as being problematic and this can be incorrectly blamed on either or both parents. This can become exaggerated during a dispute, as parents in such situations can be over critical of one another.

It is therefore important at the start of any dispute with your partner that you make it clear to your legal representative that you are concerned about your child having an ASD, especially if it has not yet been diagnosed. An assessment can assist the Court and the parents in deciding what is best for your child going forward, and may help to place some perspective on a situation where your child is displaying challenging behaviour.

Communication and Routine

For most children with an ASD, communication, structure and routine are crucial. If there is no clear and regular pattern to where the child will live and when they will see each parent, this can cause them a great deal of stress and anxiety. On occasion this stress can manifest itself as a serious reluctance to go and spend time with the other parent and this in turn may result in parents being reluctant to let arrangements continue.

The National Autistic Society recommend that to help children manage the transition to a new arrangement, it may be a good idea to provide visual timetables and calendars so that your child feels informed and comfortable with the changes that are to happen in the future. It will also help if parents communicate with each other and with their child so that their child feels supported and safe.

The child’s age should be considered when making arrangements, as timetables may need to develop and adjust alongside the child as they get older and their ASD changes with them.

Other Considerations

As with all family cases, each one is different and has its own set of circumstances. Nevertheless, there are some general points that could also be considered.

For example, if there are other children in the family who do not have an ASD the parents may want to arrange for them to spend some time with their parents alone.

Safety should also be considered when making arrangements. For example, children with an ASD can be completely unaware of dangers around them and of the consequences of their actions. This can mean that it may not be safe for them to walk home from school alone or to be alone in the family home.

If you would like help and advice on any aspect of Family Law please contact Katie-Lee Pearson on 01325 466461 or email katie-lee.pearson@close-thornton.co.uk.

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