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Co-Parenting with a Partner on the Autism Spectrum

Co-Parenting with a Partner on the Autism Spectrum

With as many as 1.5 million Americans having some form of autism, including milder variants such as what used to be called Asperger Syndrome, many of those on the autism spectrum are also parents. What are the challenges associated with co-parenting with an ‘Aspie’ partner?

When you have a family member on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be the ordinary things that cause life to grind to a halt. Ordinary things, such as: getting enough sleep; asking your spouse to pick up a child from soccer practice; or having a little family chitchat at the dining table.

When co-parenting with an Aspie, these ordinary things can become strained and turn into not-so-ordinary moments — leaving the Neuro-typical (NT) partner feeling drained, unnerved, and tense.

In fact, many NT spouses or partners report a variety of psychosomatic and immunodeficiency illnesses such as migraines, arthritis, gastric reflux and fibromyalgia. If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone.

Everyone else takes these ordinary things for granted. They don’t give them a second thought, because life just flows. This means that they have time to attend to more rewarding things in life. An NT parent trusts that an NT partner can: remember things; follow through with things; take care of him- or herself, and demonstrate respect.

But when co-parenting with an Aspie, these ordinary things become strained and turn into not-so-ordinary moments. It can feel as if you are Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, attending the tea party with the Mad Hatter and the sleeping Dormouse. Nothing makes sense. Nothing you say or do works. Even doing something simple is unnerving and tense, leaving you too drained to engage more fully in life.

The Art of Detachment

Parenting in your AS/NT family requires caring for yourself first. In the chaos of family life, it may seem impossible to create time for you. It is possible if you learn the art of detachment. Detachment is learning to protect yourself from all of those not-so-ordinary moments.

Stop taking it all personally. Stop worrying if you’ve covered all the bases. Stop beating yourself up for your parenting flaws. Stop expecting more from your AS spouse than he or she can deliver.

When you learn the art of detaching, you actually free up some energy to care for yourself. And that creates the energy to make better decisions instead of flitting from crisis to crisis. Detaching helps you psychologically step back and allow others to solve problems for themselves. Ultimately, isn’t that what all parents want — for their children to become independent, self-sufficient and able to enter the adult world “ready to roll?”

There are two methods for achieving detachment. One is emotional self-care, and the other is cognitive self-care. Emotional self-care is doing all of the feel-good things you can fit into your day. Of course they should be healthy “feel-goods.” If you notice that you are drinking or eating or smoking too much, you need healthier self-care. Make it a point always to plan healing rest and recreation in your day.

I know it is a lot to ask when you are juggling so much, but if you don’t take care of yourself, who will take care of the family? Attend to the priorities you must, and drop the rest. If you don’t, you’ll wind up ill. If you wind up ill, there will be more to drop. Avoid the vicious cycle of failure and depression.

Cognitive self-care consists of education. One major cause of stress is lack of information. When you can’t fathom what is going on with your Aspie, and they are accusing you of things you didn’t do, stress increases exponentially. It is bad enough to be misunderstood. It is quite another to have no frame of reference for the misunderstanding. Even though it is work to read a book and to attend psychotherapy, knowledge is power.

Clear up the mystery around your Aspie’s thinking and behavior by educating yourself about autism and Asperger Syndrome. When you understand that those with Asperger Syndrome are more tuned in to the facts and the “truth” than they are to your feelings, it is much easier to manage a conversation. It still takes more time and energy than an NT/NT conversation would, but this knowledge provides a base from which to solve the problem. Cognitive self-care helps you to detach and to feel less emotionally drained.

Co-Parenting with a Partner on the Autism Spectrum


Kathy J. Marshack, PhD

Licensed psychologist, Kathy Marshack, Ph.D. has worked as a marriage and family therapist for 34 years. Asperger Syndrome is one of her specialties, and she has counseled hundreds of couples, families and individuals who are on the Spectrum. She has authored three books and has been interviewed in The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CNN, the Lifetime TV channel and NPR. She practices in Portland, Oregon. To learn more visit www.kmarshack.com or download a free chapter of her new book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome,” at www.kmarshack.com/mind.


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APA Reference
Marshack, K. (2018). Co-Parenting with a Partner on the Autism Spectrum. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 21, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/co-parenting-with-a-partner-on-the-autism-spectrum/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.