Navigating divorce with a neurodiverse child

Ask a child therapist: Navigating divorce with a neurodiverse child

Parenting through a divorce is a highly challenging experience. For all involved, divorce is an intense emotional experience involving a wide range of feelings including anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, and exhaustion. As parents, there can also be guilt and worry about the impact on their children. Navigating the complex emotions that divorce evokes in parents and children takes work. If your child is very young (preschool), neurodiverse, or struggling in other areas of their lives, then there can be additional challenges. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind, but remember that it’s OK if you – and this means both of you as parents – don’t always get all these right. Being kind to yourself is crucial at this difficult time. The analogy of the oxygen masks on an aeroplane when parents must put their mask on first applies here: you have to look after yourself to be able to look after your children.

Keep to existing routines and structure as much as possible

When their world suddenly feels uncertain, neurodiverse children need to know as much as possible about when everyday things like meals and bedtimes will happen. These markers in the day provide security at a time when things feel unstable.

Focus on effective communication

It can be so hard to communicate well when you are going through a divorce. However, your neurodiverse child needs both parents to be on the same page, so being able to talk respectfully to each other about your child is essential. Keep the focus on the child: tell each other what you have been doing with your child and how they were, anything you are worried about or things that you thought went well. If something the other parent says or does upsets or angers you, take a deep breath and step back to refocus on your child before responding.

Consider the child’s sensory needs

If you are changing a child’s living environment, such as moving or introducing new people into their current home, consider their sensory needs as you do so. Where possible, create somewhere that offers them a calm and sensory-friendly environment to which they can retreat when needed.

Get professional help

Keeping your neurodiverse child’s needs at the centre of everything can be hard when you are going through a divorce and there is so much to work out. Professionals, such as psychologists and therapists who specialise in understanding the needs of neurodiverse children, and nursery workers who work with young children, can help you create a co-parenting plan to support your child. You can also find lawyers who have worked with divorce proceedings involving neurodiverse children.

The key takeaway

Navigating divorce with a neurodiverse child involves keeping the child at the centre, as well as having compassion for yourself and getting support.

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