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.