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How can I get my spouse more involved with our autistic daughter?


How can I get my spouse more involved with our daughter (high functioning)? He is generally supportive, but doesn’t seem willing to learn anything about autism or get involved with our daughter’s treatment. I’m starting to wonder whether he’s ever going to get to know our daughter at all!


Unfortunately, you speak for many mothers in your situation. There is a sense of loneliness that many moms experience after the diagnosis. It seems to come from the general trend that males have a hard time facing things they can’t fix. They feel powerless and inept when they can’t simply work harder to fix their youngster’s “disability.” Your spouse probably feels more powerless than you do.

The dynamic of a family with a high-functioning autistic (HFA) youngster tends to follow a pattern where the dad focuses on the long-term problems (e.g., financial burdens), while the mom responds more emotionally as she faces the burdens of the daily care of the youngster. By being less involved in the daily interaction with their kids, dads tend to have a somewhat longer period of denial about the disorder and its implications. When males do express their feelings, they tend to show anger or frustration.

To make matters worse, many fathers of HFA children have undiagnosed autism themselves. And some wives report that such husbands tend to be hard driven, inexpressive, pragmatic individuals, devoid of strong emotions or the capacity to nurture, always more at home with work than with their families.

Recently, a mom of an autistic child (who I have been counseling) told her spouse that if he really loved her the way he said, then he would come to a few counseling sessions with her. She needed that from him and insisted. He came and was glad he did. He probably thought about autism as much as she did, but kept it all inside. He was very expressive about what a great job she was doing, but simultaneously very discouraged about his child’s progress.

One dad told me he never read anything about HFA or went to any appointments until his wife had to go out of town for a weekend for a funeral. Left home with their "special needs" youngster, he came to a realization of what his wife’s daily life was really like, and he began to take a different attitude. He began to learn about HFA and get involved in his child’s treatment.

Everyone deals with parenting a child with special needs differently, and this difference may be even more pronounced in a family with an HFA youngster. It is very typical for one parent to become immersed in the world of autism after the diagnosis, while the other parent takes a back seat. Your spouse’s supportiveness is a positive step, and not getting as involved at this stage does not necessarily mean an unwillingness to do so. He must come to terms with - and get to know - your daughter in his own way, and at his own pace.

Encouragement and support for your spouse to get more involved in your daughter’s life need not include any accusations at all. Keep your spouse informed about your daughter and what you learn about her and her disorder. Leave the information around for your spouse to pick up and take a look at in his own time. Continue to encourage positive family interaction as much as possible.

You may feel somewhat resentful at times that you are the one doing all of the work here. You may be more able than your spouse to deal with your daughter’s diagnosis and all of the planning and involvement that goes along with it. If your spouse has a particularly hard time accepting your daughter’s diagnosis, then some counseling may be helpful. But, first try to gently nudge him along and to talk to him about your feelings and his with regard to your daughter. Perhaps things can begin to move forward from there. You can certainly let your spouse know how his seeming lack of involvement or interest makes you feel (but no accusations).

Fathers tend to be slower in this aspect of parenting a "special needs" youngster, so don’t get discouraged. Let your spouse know that you appreciate him, and let him know what you need.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


Anonymous said...
I don't think it's not having an interest my partner is the same I think it's more to do with them finding it hard to understand!

Anonymous said...
My husband had the same problem and I thought the same things most people do BUT after i finally got him to be totally honest he did understand but was scared that because of her Aspergers she would not reciprocate his emotions. And as you well know men don't admit their fears easily. After he started participating in her treatment they grew very close. In fact she tells him her "secrets" now lol she is 11

Anonymous said...
That's my husband he knows nothing about it and all I ever say is start reading about it and he does not understand our daughter and her issues so I deal with it all alone . His answer is always just punish her ... Like that would work ... He also says he's never had to deal with a child with "mental " issues .... I think sometimes that makes him feel like less than a man or something because our daughter is like that

Unknown said...
I read this post on a day where our differences in dealing with our son came up once again. Mostly, we don't talk about it, and I feel resentment because while I try to have positive interactions with our son way more often than negative ones, my husband seems to always be correcting or judging or wishing he was different. We interviewed a therapist today and I brought up that I would like family therapy. I keep mentioning to my husband how much it affects our relationship when he doesn't connect in positive ways with our son. It doesn't ever seem to change anything long-term. He sits at home with his computer or his papers and spends so much more time working even when he is at home than he does giving attention to our son (unless it is to scold him).

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