He kisses her on the cheek, slings his golf bag over his shoulder and heads out the door with a breezy,”Don’t worry, honey, he’ll grow out of this autism-thing on his own.” In the meantime, she keeps a rigid schedule of appointments for every autism therapy – traditional, biomedical, experimental or pure black magic – she can find. He listens to his mother. She listens to whomever will take her call. What little time they have together is spent arguing about who is right and who is wrong. ’Quality couple time’ turns into an opportunity to fight without the children overhearing. Marriage is difficult enough, but autism can make it even more so.
One way to help neutralize autism’s effect on a marriage is to engage your spouse in creating an aligned viewpoint. Alignment is simply another often-used corporate term that means getting on the same page. To start building alignment with your spouse, start with a fresh sheet of paper and answer these three questions:
– What does our child need? Not what we think he needs, but what supports does he require to stay healthy and to be successful integrated into his school and his community? It’s not easy to figure this out sometimes, so you may need to seek out advice from your pediatrician to see if another evaluation is required. Once the child’s needs are defined, a common platform for decision-making emerges. Remember, men and women think differently; they grieve differently and their educational and experiential backgrounds can vary widely. It is not unusual for one spouse not to have a clue what happens at 2:00 am when the awful night terrors occur or at 4:00pm when the three-hour tantrum finally ends five-minutes before the other spouse walks in the door just in time to be greeted by a cuddly, beaming infant!
–What are our strategies to get him the help he needs? There are many ways to skin the proverbial cat – something that works for one child may not work for another. It’s a bit like setting an investment strategy where both aggressive or conservative approaches can work, depending upon the household’s financial objectives and attitude toward risk. In this case the range of options might include investing in promising, but as yet unproven interventions, or to stick with the traditional special education department therapies.
Another factor to consider in strategy-setting is to evaluate what you are willing to spend. Public schools are the least expensive (although we still drop a bundle on teacher gifts, school parties and fundraisers!) vehicle to access therapies. Private schools and tutors can be very pricey; home schools are sort of in the middle cost range; and a mix of public/private services can set you back a little or a lot. Costs versus benefits are an almost never-ending source of conflict between spouses, so thinking carefully about what your child needs (e.g. small class sizes, 1-on-1 instruction, plenty of opportunity to model neurotypical peers, etc) can be just the ticket to optimizing your investment…without argument.
The next part of creating an effective strategy is to find the right people to help you develop it. A good team of advisers can point you in the right direction. (See how to use scorecards to select good advisers and caregivers from below- this is HUGE step in getting unqualified and meddlesome family members out of your marriage). Once your child’s needs are understood and your core strategies are in place, IEPs, placement and the decision to seek outside services becomes much easier.
– How will we know if our strategy is working? By determining how we can measure the results of our actions, it is much easier to evaluate what is working and what isn’t. If some thing isn’t working based upon preset criteria and after a pre-determined time frame, go back to the start or build in contingency plans along the way. For example, if Johnny isn’t meeting his goal of reading at xx% of his grade-level by the end of third grade, you might think about moving him to a private school, getting a full-time tutor, homeschooling, modifying his existing IEP, etc. Good measurements take away the anecdotal he-said, she-said arguments that can be so distracting, and can easily escalate into other areas of the marriage.
Good luck! It’s truly amazing how much time we spend gathering ‘ammunition’ to make our point with our spouse. Alignment takes away the need to do so, so I hope you’ll use a little bit of that extra time to enjoy each other!