There’s no doubt that being a parent of a child with autism can be hard work, and can put a strain on even the most solid of relationships. Everything you thought parenting would be might actually still be the case, but with a load of added extras you hadn’t bargained for too! I’m nothing like the parent I imagined I’d be when I was childless, and our marriage isn’t perfect either, but we’re trying!
Maintaining a good relationship with your partner is probably at least twice the work when you have a child with additional needs. According to research, one in three relationships would be classed as in ‘distress’ (as opposed to one in four for the ‘general population’), with 24% of people surveyed saying they only have one ‘date night’ a year. Financial strains and loneliness also play a large part in relationship troubles. And here’s a worrying statistic: parents of a child with special needs are 50% more likely to have considered separation or divorce.
There are yet more things that no-one tells you about your relationship when you’re an autism parent – so let me do the job!
What no-one tells you about your relationship when you’re an autism parent
You’ll talk about the kids constantly. I know talking about the kids a lot of the time is high on most parents’ conversational list, but your world will now revolve around not just the kids, but the additional needs/disability/disorder/condition, so it really is the only thing you’ll ever talk about when you eventually do get a few minutes to talk together!
Sleeplessness and sleeping apart become totally normal. Neither of you will want to get out of bed at 2 am when your child gets up for the day (again), but one of you will. You’ll take it in turns to ‘have an early night’ or a lie-in when you can in an effort to combat feeling like a zombie all the time. It won’t help, though.
Your roles may become very rigid. For example, in our house, I’m the one who has to put Tink to bed and read her bedtime story. Daddy just isn’t allowed. You each might find yourselves doing the same things over and over because… routine.
You’ll probably stop going out together. It’s hard enough to find someone you trust and who knows your child well who can babysit for you, but throw in the fact you’re both utterly exhausted and the fact that any change in routine can cause uproar, you might as well forget date nights.
Even though you’re together, you might feel so alone. Particularly if one of you is at home while the other goes out to work. Having a child with autism can be incredibly isolating; your friends stop asking you out as you can never make it, you can’t go to the same places because your child doesn’t handle noise and people well and it’s just easier to stay at home. But bloody hell, it’s lonely.
You might find you disagree more. Parenting a child on the spectrum has many challenges, and there’s no hard-and-fast rule on how to do it. You may find that you and your partner disagree on what’s best for you child at different times, and finding a compromise isn’t always in the best interest of the child.
Yeah, yeah, so far, so negative. But, it’s not necessarily all bad! There are a few positive things that can happen to your relationship too…
You might grow stronger than ever. Yes, it’s bloody hard, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or so they say. Finding ways to work together and fight for your child’s needs can mean your relationship becomes more solid as time goes on.
You find happiness in the smallest things. Ever cheered and clapped like mad because your child said ‘no’, or ate a chip, or did a poo?
You find humour in the strangest things. Having autism in the family can mean you develop a seriously warped sense of humour! At least you’ll laugh together when your child sniffs the clothes in the shops (or is that just mine?).
Relationships are funny things and take work no matter what your situation. However, raising an autistic child will really test the limits. Do all you can to make it work!
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