Your child’s ASD diagnosis can be challenging to your relationship. Experts share how to keep your bond strong.
Ross adds that it’s helpful to recognize your spouse’s talents. Consider how your partner can help you become a better parent, and where your different skills can be most helpful to your child. “You can’t both be working on the same thing—there’s just too much to do. Divide and conquer is really better,” Ross says.
Bring Back Date Night (or Day)
Your child can easily become the focus of your every conversation, activity, and thought. And, doing otherwise may induce feelings of guilt (I shouldn’t go to the movies when I have that towering pile of paperwork to tackle). But your marriage requires attention, too. “Make sure you do carve out time to do pleasurable things together and do not spend every waking moment on your child,” Dr. Saltz says.
“You have to keep your relationship interesting and spicy. You were married way before you were a parent, so you still have to nurture your marriage,” Dr. Griffith says. To that end, put date night on the calendar, just like any other important appointment. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your child with a caretaker, or can’t afford one, Dr. Griffith suggests shifting date night to date day—after you drop your child off at school, skip out of your responsibilities for a few hours in favor of a long lunch, coffee at your local café, a walk in the park, or a trip to the museum or movies together.
Develop a Support System
It can be deeply lonely to be a parent of a child with ASD. “Parents who don’t have kids with special needs don’t know how hard it is. [They] don’t know what you go through,” says Jennifer Kaufman, an occupational therapist who works in NYC public schools and mom to a 9-year-old son who is on the spectrum.
“When you have a typical child, you meet other families with kids and your world expands, but when you have a kid on the spectrum your world can constrict, and that’s harder,” Ross says. Simple social gatherings—like a trip to the park or a birthday party—are difficult for kids who are on the spectrum. That leads many parents to just opt out. “Parents with kids on the spectrum get embarrassed, feel judged, feel upset, so they tend to isolate, which can cause stress,” Ross says.
Instead of RSVPing no until the invites end, Ross recommends educating the people around you: Have a conversation with friends about what to expect from your child, and how to talk to their own child about being around kids on the spectrum.
As well as maintaining pre-existing relationships, look to make new connections. “Find other parents who may be having a similar struggle, so you have a community to be able to talk to about these [struggles],” Dr. Saltz says. Ross recommends seeking out support groups for parents of children with special needs.
It can feel relieving and world opening to raise money or volunteer for autism-related causes, Dr. Saltz says. “Doing volunteer work together can be helpful and bonding,” she says.
Immersed in therapy, testing, and schedules, it’s easy to neglect caring for your marriage—but it’s not a small thing to overlook. As Ross points out, “It’s not a luxury to work on your relationship. It’s really important for the adults and the whole family.” Having a strong partnership reduces the likelihood of burnout, and allows you to do more on behalf of your children. So go ahead: Enjoy some time with your spouse, and make your partnership a top priority.