Q. I’m having trouble co-parenting my special needs child. My son has been diagnosed as Autistic, high functioning. He also has OCD, possibly Tourette’s Syndrome, and can be trying at times, but he’s my son and I want to spend more time with him. I’d like to have him two days with me, two days with his mother and alternate the weekends. His mother and I don’t speak and so I often petition the court to change the parenting plan, but they never do. I’m at a loss. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. There are a lot of red flags in your question—some are obvious, some are not. Let me first address the one that waves the brightest—it’s that you have a special needs child and you and his mother don’t speak to each other. I don’t care what happened in the past, a special needs child in the Autistic spectrum with OCD and Tourette’s will be a challenge to raise. This is the exact reason I included, “Ask for help when you need it,” as Ex-etiquette for parents rule #2. You need each other’s support on this one.
Whenever I say something like, “I don’t care about what happened in the past,” I get emails calling me out while referencing horrible stories of mental illness or abuse and asking me what must I be thinking by suggesting something as ridiculous as “reach out to the other parent.” In those situations, it’s understandable if you aren’t compelled to “ask for help if you need it.” But, in most cases, when there is a problem, the other parent is the last person exes reach out to—and that’s a shame because even though you have treated each other terribly in the past, the other parent is the only one in the universe who loves that child as much as you do. He or she is pained when it’s difficult for him to assimilate into main stream education or when the other kids mimic his behavior. He or she celebrates his successes and is saddened by his failures. You and mom are not alone while raising your son. There is help—you just have to realize it and ask.
That said, a trait that is often overlooked when designing a parenting plan for a child on the autistic scale is how much they crave order and consistency. Children with that diagnosis have trouble with change, so it would not be in his best interest for him to follow a parenting plan that requires him to go back and forth every two days. Many children with an autistic diagnosis also suffer with anxiety, have panic attacks and emotional meltdowns and its imperative that both parents have a consistent routine in place to help him cope. This may be the reason the court will not consider a change.
My suggestion at this juncture is for both of you to sit down with your son’s doctor and design a plan that incorporates coping strategies you have seen work for your son. Another goal would be to develop a working relationship with mom so that if you want more time with your son, you can call her up say, “I have the afternoon free and I’d love to take our son for ice cream.” And she can say, “Great, come get him.” That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.