S4 E2 Marriage and Autism
Last Friday I released an episode of Autisable Dad’s where I encourage anyone to just get a diagnosis. Here’s the link:
Now, a while ago I shared that the Grief is Real. That episode is where I discussed the reality of being a dad of a kid that is not neurotypical. Here’s the link to that episode:
https://autisable.com/2019/10/06/the-grief-is-real/ (season 2 episode 10)
As I share in that episode, the grief is very real, but we have to remember that the grief that presents itself has nothing to do with our kids – but with the concept of what is perceived and expected – to what became in reality.
I share these stories not to obtain any sympathy, but to provide context as to what many families go through on a daily basis.
You see, while a mom and dad try to figure out what’s going on with their kid – they are also trying to navigate their own relationship like anyone else.
The constant bombardment of the phrase ‘divorce’ is ever-present in a marriage, with the world regularly showing us how many relationships just didn’t make it. Recently we heard that Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet just announced that they are splitting up after 16 years.
No one really knows what causes a couple to call it quits, only they do. The rest is speculation brought upon by the media, in the eternal search to get ratings.
It’s all too easy to compare one’s own relationship with another couple – as that is like comparing apples to oranges, isn’t it? After all, not everyone is a Jason Momoa – or a Lisa Bonet.
Over a dozen years ago it was assumed that divorce rates of the parents of autistic children are as high as 80%. However, let’s provide a little reprieve on that note that divorce rates of autistic kids are more like 64%. The myth, the preconceived notion that 80% of parents of autistic kids become divorced – has been debunked. Here’s the link to address that myth:
This just means that there is a bit more hope in this area than popularly expected.
Being a parent of an autistic kid often brings about another layer to the relationship, that of caregiver to a loved one. This role is often shared between the mom and dad, and as such there are significant challenges that must be overcome.
After 25 years of marriage, and being a dad to a non-verbal autistic kid, allow me to share a few tips that have helped us out as we’ve navigated being special needs parents:
1. Your child is still amazing, regardless of their diagnosis
Remember that your kid is still your kid, regardless of their diagnosis. They have hopes, dreams, aspirations, and they love you – even if they don’t say the words. Be open to just hang out with them. Your presence speaks volumes to them. Often you don’t have to say a thing. Over time you’ll discover more about them as an individual.
2. Remember your Spouse – as an individual, not just as the baby momma or baby daddy.
As we get inundated with information and plans of action to take, remember that your spouse is still going through their stuff. They need you to recognize them, to see them, to listen to them. Make it a point to have a day together. Steal a few hours to go out to eat, or see a movie.. or to just be together.
It’s easy to view our spouses as the father or mother of our child, just don’t forget how that child came to be in the first place – the love between the to parents. Remember to regularly nurture that relationship.
3. That thing, yeah, it can wait. (for the men)
You know that project you needed to have done for so long? Yeah, it can wait. Seriously, it can. If it’s for your work, keep your deadlines, but recognize that whatever you’re doing – nothing is as important as being there for your wife.
This means that going out with your friends, or doing those things that aren’t helping your spouse when they need you most, need to be reprioritized. Just make sure your priorities are in order.
4. Honor your word
I have a cousin who taught me at a young age to do something that my parents never cared for… and as I got older, although it was funny at the time, I’m still working on it.
He told me that whenever my parents asked me to do something, to tell them “I’ll do it in a minute”
The sad reality is that I never really did most of what I said I’d do. Or, it would be much later, anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Let’s just say when you say you’re going to do something, it builds trust. Not doing it tears any trust you’ve built down – and you start again from scratch.
5. Listening fixes soo much, with little effort
We all need to be heard, and some of us have more words than others.
It’s also easy for men to fall into the trap that when their spouse starts to talk about something, they are really just trying to verbally work through what their dealing with and us men tend to go into ‘mr. fix it’ mode.
Men, there is a simple solution to many things your wife is going through. It’s a two-step process:
a. shut up
Be active in your listening, so that she feels heard. But this can fix soo many challenges.
6. NEVER assume
Ever expect something from your spouse and it never gets done? Then you fester and the anger starts growing as a result?
Yeah, did you tell your spouse what you expected? or did you assume it?
For those that know me, you know I often will ask, “well, did you tell them?”
Often when I’m speaking with someone and the phrase, “they should know” comes up.
Yeah, if you’re going to assume anything – assume your spouse knows nothing.
Live each day with the understanding that although you love each other, and that you’re close to each other… you don’t read each other’s minds.
Be specific on any expectations, and be sure you both understand whatever those expectations are.
7. Choose who takes point on what
Being parents, or special needs parents, you have to figure quickly where each other’s skillset resides in regards to your kid. Who will take point with the doctor’s, with the school’s, with the finances, with the house… etc…
Build on the strengths, and know where each other’s challenges are. I refer here to number six in this list to never assume here either.
As parents, you are partners in this effort, and as such you need to communicate specific expectations – and make sure each other knows what those expectations are.
8. Be patient
Choose to be patient, no matter what. Remember that it takes time to find that rhythm between the two of you as things will constantly change.
Just keep communicating and work through things. Know that whatever it is you as a family are going through – that too shall pass.
Simple things like love notes, flowers, and having a fresh pot of coffee are always nice. But whatever language your loved one recognizes – speak it every now and then so they understand that you’re there for them and not alone.
It’s nice to have your calendar full of things you MUST DO. Just remember to schedule a few Do Nothing days to focus on each other. That’s just as important as your own personal self-care routine.
Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list, but just a short list of reminders.
What would you add to this list?
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