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When Children With ASD Need a Special Custody Plan

child looking at paper cut outs of people

The individual needs of a particular family or child should always be considered as paramount above a “standard” or regularly used scheduled. When a child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is often paramount to that child’s well-being and ability to adjust to the changing dynamics of their family that the child’s needs be a central consideration in a parenting plan created. Even if your child is highly functioning and able to deal with a variety of social circumstances, attending school and engaged in other “normal” behaviors, often in the midst of significant change in the family, ASD children struggle the most. In the best possible situations, both parents are able to consider the child’s unique needs and develop a parenting plan that meets those needs.

What does that involve and how do parents with a child with ASD work together?

First and foremost, the parents need to put their child’s needs first. All children crave and benefit strongly from a stable, structured home environment and routine, children with ASD need the structure and routine that stability can provide even more than ever. In spite of the ASD child’s needs, this does not mean either parent should feel obligated to stay in an unhappy or unhealthy marriage. Children can also feel the tension and stress of an unhappy home life. With some planning and efforts, and hopefully the parents teaming up to maximize the efforts to meet the child’s needs, the transition and change in the family dynamics can go as smoothly as possible.

How do parents serve these needs for an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) child?

  1. Focus on providing consistency. As much as possible, assure your child that everything else in their life will continue and be the same. The more you are able to maintain stability and status quo for school, therapists/therapy, therapy programs, their friends, activities and other things, the more the child will still feel that their routine and structure is continuing on. This will give them stability and security in facing other changes such as a different living environment and/or different family members living together in the house.
  2. Continue to display calmness. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) react and/or overreact to excessive stimulus. This means, often, that families experiencing a high level of disagreement and unhappiness in the home will bring about peace and an improved environment by separating. Make sure during this period that difficult or high-conflict discussions are avoided in the hearing a presence of the child. In some families, because the child is often either with one parent or the other, this means agreeing to engage in discussions concerning custody, asset division and other topics through writing so the child is not exposed to disagreement. The parents must assure that each household provides the child calm when the child is present. Even if each parent separately feels a large level of emotions due to the changing marriage, the parents must display a “game face” when the child is present.
  3. Make sure each parent is maintaining a routine for the child. Often children struggle with a change in routine when their family and living situation changes. Therefore, the more parents can speak and integrate their routines, for example, waking the child up at the same time and having the same poster of a morning routine, the more the child will succeed in the new circumstances. If parents of an ASD child are unable to collaborate to share and maintain consistent routines, it is unlikely (or less likely) that they will be able to share custody in a significant way.
  4. Provide the child stability! For some ASD children, the best custody situation is a “nesting” one where the child remains in one house and the parents move/rotate in and out of the house so that the child is in a consistent residence, with his or her routine, room and other important things. Admittedly, for many parents, this is not possible for a variety of reasons, but parents putting effort into determining how to provide stability for a child will always benefit the child.

The Bottom Line?

For a custody arrangement to work for a child with ASD, both parents have to work together, and be committed to meeting the child’s needs and a high level of communication and effort. If, after trying a particular arrangement, it is determined that it is not meeting your child’s needs, you and the other parent have to be committed to being open to trying new arrangements.

Additionally, for many children with ASD, they have significant expenses that need to be taken into consideration in meting the child’s needs. For many children, a significant amount of the therapy that they receive to try to maximize their abilities is not fully covered by insurance. Hopefully, both parents are committed to providing the child everything needed and continuing the necessary therapy for a child can be something agreed upon by the parents.

Do you need help with a unique child custody arrangement?

Obviously, advocating for your child with special needs has been an important part of your role as a parent, likely for many years. It is no surprise that as a parent advocating for your child, that consideration continues in the midst of a changing family dynamic. Our office and firm understands that children with ASD need unique parenting plans. Call Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 today to put our knowledge, expertise and experience to work for your family!