Tag Archives: divorce

One Good Thing

“How old was I when I started to talk?” Nigel asked me one day last week as we drove to the grocery store.

“You were five when you started,” I told him. “But it took several years of learning before you could talk as well as you can now.” I waited for more questions, but that was all he seemed to want to know at the moment. I asked him if he could remember how it was for him before he could talk, if he remembered what it was like when his hearing was so sensitive that many sounds were painful to him, and he said no. “I don’t remember those days.”

But the fact that he talks now, and that he goes online to watch YouTube videos, makes me worry that someday he might stumble across the “I Am Autism” video. And since he is aware of the fact that his parents separated within a year of his autism diagnosis, and then divorced, how will he feel when he hears the ominous voice saying, ” . . . I will make sure that your marriage fails“? His self-esteem is fragile enough, and his own acceptance of his autism has been difficult at best. This video would destroy any gains he might have made. I couldn’t stand for that. Nor do I ever want him to feel responsible for his parents’ divorce.

So tonight, while relaxing on the couch, I gently broach the subject by asking him if he’d ever seen any videos about autism. He tells me that he hasn’t looked, and I say that’s fine. Then I describe the “I Am Autism” video. I tell him that it takes the challenging and difficult aspects of autism and talks about them in a threatening tone. That it blames divorce on autism.

Nigel says, “Probably the people who think that are just insecure.”

“Yes, Nigel,” I say, stunned.  “I think you’re absolutely right.” Where did that come from? How could he instinctively know that? His keen, sensible awareness shocks me. But I have to continue. “I just want to make sure that you would never think that your autism was the cause of your dad’s and my divorce.”

“I don’t,” he states.

“That’s good,” I say. “Because your autism had nothing to do with the divorce.” And then, because we seem to be on a roll, I go on. “I don’t want your self-esteem to suffer because of videos like that. Autism is challenging and difficult sometimes, as you know, but it’s part of your personality and what makes you so unique. But I know sometimes it’s hard for you to accept it. I remember a year or two ago, you would get upset sometimes and say that you hated the autism and wanted to rip it out of your head – ”

“Well, that was just a phase,” Nigel interjects.

“You mean you don’t feel that way anymore?”

“No. I feel fine about it now.”

I reach over to hug him, and he stiffly accepts. “I’m so glad to hear that,” I tell him, my voice catching. For years, autism had caused self-loathing for my son. Maybe something like that should have been mentioned in the video. Maybe it should have been mentioned that autism is not just a struggle for the family members. It’s an even bigger struggle for the ones who have it. Yet they continue to find ways to work with their autism, not against it. And with time, therapy, and a lot of hard work, they can even come to accept it.   

I know that we still have a long way to go. I know that the social issues are going to be a continuing source of strife for my son, just as the sensory issues and language deficit used to be. But there’s one huge thing in place that’s going to help with that – his self-esteem. And that’s one good thing about the “I Am Autism” video – it was the catalyst for an amazing conversation with my son. Not only do I feel better knowing that he doesn’t blame himself for his parents’ divorce,  but he revealed to me that he has accepted his autism. He no longer feels that it makes him defective. He knows that it makes him different, and he’s okay with that. I feel fine about it now, he says.

The air in our home is not the same tonight. A threshold has been crossed, a truce declared. There is a calmness I don’t recall feeling before. A new ease. Contentment.

I smile, remembering. “Just a phase” he said.  – Oh, how I love him.

The Long-Distance Family

My boys, my two big teenagers, are home! I drove the long drive to pick them up, hugged them, laughed when they called me “Dad-Mom” for the millionth time, piled their suitcases, computer, pillows, books, movies, Xbox 360, and two bicycles and helmets into my small SUV, and drove back home. Whew. This was their eighth summer in LA.

Last year when they returned, I wrote about my anxiety concerning the long-term effects that this going-back-and-forth arrangement might have on them. I can’t help thinking about that. But then I realized that what we do is far better than the alternative – not spending time with their father. It’s not an easy situation, and we do the best we can with it. But this year I didn’t really dwell on that too much. This year, this pick-up, was all about reminiscing.

I remembered the first time we did the 700-Mile Kid Swap, nearly eight years ago. Nigel was seven and Aidan was five. It was for less than a week that first time, for a winter visit. I remember how we transferred all of their stuff out of my car into their dad’s car, hugged goodbye, and drove off in opposite directions. They got in the southbound lane to LA, and I got in the northbound lane to Oregon. I remember crying on the onramp as I realized that this would be the first of many times that I would drive home without my children. And they were so little.

That first summer, when Aidan turned six and Nigel was not yet eight, they were gone for six weeks, and I went to visit them at the three-week point. I think Nigel thought that I had come to take him back with me, and he cried when I said goodbye after the weekend visit, actually said “All done LA,” at a time when his speech was so limited. Broke. My. Heart. And then when they did come back to Oregon, Aidan had such a hard time transitioning and readjusting that he lashed out at me and told me he didn’t want to live with me anymore. I had thought we might go through that when he was a little older, but not at six. It took him a month to work through it. Broke. My. Heart.

So it’s been hard – on all of us. And though we still miss each other when we’re apart, we’ve come a long way in dealing with our reality. We all have hard parts of our lives – autism, divorce, money or health issues – and we do the best we can with them. That’s all we can do. We have to work with what is. And I think that, over the years, my boys and I have done pretty well with our “what is.” We might feel, as Aidan said at age seven, like we have two lives, but we’ve learned how to blend them seamlessly. We’ve adapted. And we’ve thrived.

It may not be what I would have wished for or expected when I started my family, but that’s okay. It may not be ideal, but we’ve made it work for us, and I’m rather proud of that. We’re, like, pros in the long-distance family department. We have absolutely no transitioning problems now. And I only got called “Dad-Mom” twice!

The Boys Are Back in Town

My sons returned late Saturday afternoon! The longest time of not seeing one another (seven weeks, two days) is over!  And now, Nigel and I stand eye to eye, nose to nose. Aidan, with his short hair and deep tan, I hardly recognize. But I know their scents, and their embraces.  It’s so good to have them home.

This was their seventh summer in LA with their dad. In previous years, they have also visited him for one- or two-week increments at Christmas or Spring Break. Usually I drive five and a half hours to a junction just north of Stockton, California, which is near the half-way point between my house and their dad’s house. Their dad meets us there for lunch, and then we transfer suitcases and bags, sometimes bikes and skates, into the other car. And then we transfer kids. I call it the 700-Mile Kid Swap. Then I turn around and drive five and a half hours back home. It’s a hell of a thing to do six times a year.

So my son’s young lives have been filled with many good-byes and as many reunions. It is a different way to grow up from what I experienced; my parents remained married throughout my childhood. I had friends whose parents were divorced, but in southern California, the other parent was never more than an hour’s drive away, not eleven hours. I often wonder about the emotional long-term effects of this arrangement on my kids. I know it’s hard on me, and I’m an adult. Aidan once said to me, when he was seven, “I feel like I have two lives.” Kids shouldn’t have to feel that way.

But it’s important that they maintain a good relationship with their father, and I think in the long run they’ll realize that we did the best we could to achieve that, given the circumstances. The 700-Mile Kid Swap has taught them flexibility and patience, two skills that are invaluable for autistic kids, and difficult to learn. They’ve had many great experiences in LA that have enriched their lives, and they’ve learned to appreciate and adapt to a different environment. It’s not the typical joint custody arrangement, but for the most part, it’s working.

As for me, I’m just glad they’re back. I’m going to get some more hugs right now . . .

Single Parenting with Autism

Even though recent reports put the divorce rate down to its lowest since 1970, I had read various quotes that the divorce rate when autism is involved is as high as 80%. I took a look around online and found a source which puts the rate at 85-90%! Scary and sad. Personally, I don’t believe that having an autistic child led my ex-husband and me to seek a divorce; there were plenty of other factors involved. But the fact remains that ten months out of the year, I am a sole parent (by that I mean that the other parent is only available by phone). And judging by the statistics, there are many other single autism parents out there as well. How do we do it?

The quick answer to that question is support. But there are several other elements that contribute to the successful single parenting of an autistic child. This is what I have learned:

1) You must have emotional support. Look first to your child’s other parent. A half-and-half joint custody arrangement may be too difficult for your autistic child to process, so be creative in your approach. But do try to plan for your child(ren) to spend some time with both parents each week so that the custodial parent can get a break and the non-custodial parent can spend some time with the child(ren). Do whatever you can to quickly get past any negativity with your ex-spouse. Not only will this be better for your child(ren), it will make things so much easier for you.  In the event that your ex-spouse lives far away or for other reasons cannot or will not be involved, you need other sources of support. Look to relatives and friends, and if you are truly isolated, you may want to consider relocating closer to those who can help you. If that’s not possible, look up respite care in your area.

2) You need time for yourself. This is why respite care is important if you do not have an ex-spouse or family and friends nearby. Giving yourself a break will help you to recharge and ultimately be a better parent. My time to rest and recharge is during the summer, when my sons are visiting their father in Los Angeles for seven weeks. Of course, I would rather have that broken up into smaller increments at more frequent times throughout the year, but it’s not possible. So, during the other ten months of the year, once in a while I have a family member or a friend from Nigel’s Scout troop watch him, Aidan goes to a friend’s house, and I take a much-needed break.

3) Try to organize your life. It really helps to get through the day, and the week, if your therapy appointments and errands are noted in one place, your keys and wallet/purse are always kept in the same place, and you schedule certain household tasks on certain days of the week. I plan out meals a week in advance and do my grocery shopping once a week. I started doing this about a year ago, and it makes that element of running a household so much easier, plus it’s healthier and it saves money. Two great sources for helping you to organize your life are The Simple Dollar and Real Simple Magazine.

4) Exercise when you can. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym, unless that’s the only thing that works for you and you have the means to do so. If your child can handle a walk around the block, get out and do that. If not, try doing yoga at home, and try getting your child(ren) to do it with you. Exercise is important not just for the physical health reasons, but also for emotional and mental health. It’s essential for stress release, something all autism parents need.

5) Cultivate (or develop) creative interests. Writing saves my sanity and helps me retain my sense of self. Anyone can benefit from having a creative pursuit, but for single parents, that outlet can become a lifeline of sorts. The best thing to do is to come up with something you can do at home, either with your child(ren) or while they are otherwise occupied (watching a video, for example). If you love to cook or bake, throw yourself into it: research recipes, try out new ones, or develop your own. Try getting into painting or drawing, photography, needlework or other craftwork, sewing, woodwork, designing, music, poetry, plants, gardening, computer programming, or anything you might be passionate about. It’s good for the soul, and it reminds you that there is more to your life than day-to-day life.