As far as relationships go, mine *touches wood* is pretty solid. I never really related to all that talk about marriage being onerous. For many years it was a cinch. Then, fast forward nearly 10 years, my husband and I decided to start a family. And all bets were off.
My colicky baby grew into a volatile toddler who at age three was diagnosed with autism. The prognosis for couples with a child on the spectrum isn't great. In fact, if you buy into the stats, they are guaranteed to scare you witless -- as in 78 per cent will ultimately see their marriage dissolve following a diagnosis (though a contributor, autism wasn't cited by the vast majority of couples as the primary grounds for divorce). So while autism isn't the kiss of death, the extra stress may prove the breaking point for already-strained relationships. And I totally buy that.
Sometimes it feels as though there are three parties in my relationship -- my husband, me, and Autism. For a long time autism ate up every minute my spouse and I spent together. Once our child was in bed, we were either pouring over books and documentaries about autism, discussing or even disputing how to deal with my son and the crisis du jour. Even when we found ourselves laughing or celebrating some thing my son said or did, autism stole the spotlight.
So while I'm by no means an expert, here are a few pearls I've gleaned -- after 15 years' married -- about making a relationship work when you have a child with special needs:
Smells like team spirit
Present a united front. The cracks appear when you pit against each other. And this, I suspect, goes for parenting in general: it's crucial that you and your partner approach autism as a team. Even in the eye of the tornado, remember you are allies trying to support and understand your child better. Oh, and your child is on that team, too. Though autism can test us, your kid should never feel like the enemy or the anathema.
Put autism in its box
In our house we had to designate an "ASD-free" time, in which we vowed not to discuss our son or the Big A. It's tough, especially when the diagnosis is fresh and you are collectively getting your heads around it, or when there are new routines or therapies to negotiate. By all means, you need to talk about it sometimes. But autism loves the sound of its own voice, so be wary of letting it dominate every conversation you have with your significant other.
Carve out couple time
So my husband and I kind of suck at this last point. We are both homebodies and don't get out as often as we should. And many families are financially strapped to pay for babysitters (what with all the ASD therapies and out-of-pocket expenses). Respite is non negotiable, though, even if it consists of the two of you lighting candles and dancing around your living room or laughing at some dumb Netflix comedy. It doesn't have to be Romance, but for at least a solid hour each night, elbow autism out of the way and simply be together.
Have each other's backs
We're all stressed and tired, people. Fortunately one of us is usually feeling stronger and more capable at any given time. If my son is acting out and I can't deal, I will gently ask my husband to take over so I can leave the room long enough to clear my head and calm my frayed nerves. And vice-versa. I have been known to tell my husband point blank that he needs a time-out, so I can take over. An angry or stressed parent isn't in the right head space to deal with a meltdown and doing so will only make a child's anxiety and behaviour worse. To the best of our ability, we have to model the calm we want for our kids.
Mama, don't preach
Another a tricky point for me. In many households, one parent tends by necessity to become the ASD case manager. Since I work part-time, my "other job" involves chauffeuring my son, taking him to appointments, and liaising with his therapists and teachers. Since I am the one effectively managing all things autism, it's hard not to come at my husband all bossy and nagging, correcting how he deals with our son in a given situation. No one likes to be scolded, lest of all a grown man. By all means share the latest information, but be mindful not to finger-point and play the blame game.
And last but not least, there's some truth to the good old "don't go to bed angry" adage.
This article originally appeared in Yummy Mummy Club.
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