Single-Parenting Children With Aspergers/High-Functioning Autism

One of the most difficult roles a mother or father will ever assume is that of the single parent. It doesn't matter how you arrived at that point – divorced, widowed, or single by choice – it is a daily challenge. When a mother or father is a single parent and there is a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) to care for, the challenges can make life feel like a true test of endurance, but it can be done. It does take more effort and organization, however.

Although raising children always has challenges, single parenting a child with Aspergers or HFA can be extremely stressful – as well as rewarding. Finding solutions to most of the problems is the first step toward keeping the parent from feeling overwhelmed. Almost every problem has a solution. The real trick to success as a single parent is not losing yourself in the parenting process. There are some issues that every single parent needs to be aware. Working on the solutions before they become problems can greatly reduce parental stress.

Tips for single parents with Aspergers and HFA children:

1. Arm yourself with information. Read everything you can about your youngster’s disorder. Most libraries have a parenting section with books on raising kids with special needs. The Internet also offers a broad spectrum of information on nearly every type of disorder. Websites, chat rooms, and the like are tremendous sources of information about conditions, treatments, and medications that are up-to-the-minute. Also, many of the websites that focus on childhood disorders will mail information to parents for free or for a very nominal charge. Be sure to consult your youngster’s doctor regarding the information you find. Being informed is the best offense in managing the daily and long-term challenges of parenting a youngster with Aspergers. Know what you need and pursue it.

2. Avoid being competitive with your ex. It won’t get you anywhere. You may not be able to compete with taking the children to Disney World. But children don’t necessarily love the one who gives the bigger presents more.

3. Be your youngster’s best advocate. No one can - or will ever - care more about a youngster and his/her well-being than the parent(s). As such, it is squarely on the parents’ shoulders to fight for the best information, treatment, doctors, and options that exist. Familiarize yourself with the law. Every parent has to be his/her own researcher.

4. Consider a pet. If you don’t have one, think of getting one. It takes the focus away and puts it on something else. Animals spread love around.

5. Control your reactions. Your Aspergers youngster may push your buttons, but giving big reactions to bad behavior may send the wrong message. Showing that you can control your feelings and avoid meltdowns yourself models appropriate behavior for your Aspie, and leaves you feeling better, too.

6. Don’t block your feelings. Recognize that ALL your feelings are normal. Be sad. Be mad. It’s only natural.

7. Don’t play the blame game. Your youngster’s disorder is not your fault, nor is your spouse to blame. It does no good to look for someone to focus your anger on. Pointing your finger at your spouse or his medical or family history is not productive and can be extremely hurtful. You will need to lean on one another for support, and blame can only damage your relationship.

8. Everyone needs a social life, and a single parent of a youngster with Aspergers is no exception. In addition to caring for your son or daughter, you may be working full time, meeting the needs of your other kids, and taking care of the home, which leaves you little free time. You may have other obligations, too (e.g., school, church, community activities, etc.). Fatigue takes on a new meaning, and having social interaction outside the home is so far on the back-burner it is hard to remember what it was like to “have a life.” Nonetheless, it is important to carve-out some time in your schedule for fun social activities (e.g., hiking, biking, dancing, card games, movies, eating out, etc.). The key is having fun interaction with other adults. Grown-ups who do not spend time with their “buddies” begin to resent their schedule, their lives, and possibly their kids. It is normal to feel that way, and the best way to avoid the problem is to schedule time to socialize.

9. Find some kind of support group. If you can’t find it in your community, you can find one online. You have to make a concerted effort to start to build your new family based on reciprocity and support. It can also help to start building self-esteem. You realize you are not the only one.

10. Focus on personal growth. So much of being a parent takes an emotional and physical toll on you that you have to get out and do something for yourself on an ongoing basis. Try an activity that you never did or go back to something you gave up in your marriage (e.g., rediscovered the love of hiking, or learn how to play a musical instrument). Put yourself out there. Try anything creative.

11. Focus on stress management. When harried and stressed, single parents often find themselves less able to connect with their kids or focus at work, which may lead to acting-out behavior by the children, time-consuming mistakes at work, and other things that increase stress for the parent and his/her family. Therefore, taking a proactive stance on stress management is quite important. Having several quick stress relievers on hand (e.g., breathing exercises, reframing techniques, having different/positive ways of looking at a stressful situation, etc.), as well as long-term stress management strategies in place (e.g., regular exercise, meditation, a hobby, a supportive social circle, etc.) can relieve significant stress for single parents.

12. Hopefully you have been able to create a good working relationship with your ex for the benefit of your youngster. If not, and the sparks fly very time you see each other, it would be wise to consult a counselor. Even if the relationship with your ex has no chance in the world of being civil, there needs to be a peaceful environment for the youngster.

13. Kids with Aspergers may seem to be unaware of the environment around them, but they usually are much more in tune with the emotions of others than it appears. If the moms and dads are arguing or fighting, the youngster is apt to act-out with defiant behaviors. The grown-ups in the situation, by keeping their own tempers, can prevent this. Remember that although your relationship may be over, the relationship both of you have with your youngster is not.

14. Know that you are not alone. Having an Aspergers or HFA youngster can feel very isolating. It’s easy to stay home and think that you are the only one dealing with that situation. Seek out support groups. Form your own groups, if none exist.

15. Learn to enjoy your own company. It may have never occurred to you when you were married that you could actually enjoy your own company. You can do that. Don’t date too soon. You can fall in love too quickly. You can’t be a great parent unless you are a great person.

16. Minimize the tough times. Holidays are hard when you don’t have your special needs child because he or she is visiting the other parent, so make a plan. Know you will feel bad – and know it will end.

17. Move your bedroom to a different room in your house. Make the old one a study or kid’s play room. Redecorate to reflect your individual tastes and make the house more of your home.

18. One major advantage that married couples have is companionship. There’s nothing like being with a spouse who knows and understands the daily problems you encounter. Having someone you can vent your frustrations to keeps one mentally healthy. It is human nature to want to share. If you don't have anyone in your life that you can share your feelings with on a daily basis, work at developing friendships that are true give-and-take relationships. A local support group that includes single parents might be helpful. Some support groups have a network of parents who are on “phone duty” that you can call at any time when you need to talk or vent your emotions.

19. Sometimes, ex in-laws can become a problem for you. A direct approach to the grandparents may not be welcome. If you find yourself in this situation, begin by bringing the matter to the attention of your ex, who may be willing to intervene on your behalf. If your ex refuses to support you in this matter, limit your interaction with the grandparents as much as possible. While they have every right to see their grandchild, you can and should limit your own time with them for your own sanity.

20. You can never take a day off from being a parent, and you may not be able to take a day off from work whenever you like, but there are things you can give yourself a day off from. Next time you're feeling particularly stressed, messed up, tired out or done in, declare a day off from:
  • Being behavior cop
  • Being SuperMom or SuperDad
  • Caring what other people think
  • Doing research
  • Fighting battles
  • Filling out forms
  • Handling details
  • Holding it in
  • Knowing it all
  • Making appointments
  • Making phone calls
  • Multitasking
  • Planning ahead
  • Saying the right thing
  • Serving as case manager
  • Solving problems
  • Working out
  • Worrying

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COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… Thanks for the reminders. So easy to forget to take time for yourself with everything going on and being the only parent holding things together.
•    Anonymous said… I wouldn't wish single parenthood on my worst enemy because it is so hard. However, I think it's far more important to be the most positive, most enthusiastic cheerleader and champion for my son to help him be the best that he can be. No role model is better in my mind than a bad role model. It's difficult enough being a parent, but having a child on the spectrum is an added challenge. I can't be a basket case because of being the mom my son needs and trying to juggle a relationship that doesn't support or promote my abilities as a mother for my children.
•    Anonymous said… I know what you mean. A child with asbergers requires so much attention because they aren't able to socialize Knowing that a parent is always there for them makes them feel more secure. I'm the same. I've been divorced for 12 years and haven't had a relationship since. Because I've made my son feel so secure growing up at 21 he is thriving in his 3rd year of universtiy away from home. He has his twin sister nearby for companionship, he speaks to me on the phone for an hour each day and he comes home every five to six weeks for a week. He hasn't made any friends at university because he's just not able to but he knows we are always there for him. It's extremely important for kids/adults with asbergers to know you've got their back 100%.
•    Anonymous said… I am the single parent to two children on the spectrum. I find being a single parent far easier than when I was married. I am utterly focused on the boys. There is no, and there will be no, relationship to try and juggle alongside. I'm mum. I'm not wife. Everything is about the boys. Our relationship is so much stronger and it's the three of us. I much prefer single parenthood.

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