07/25/2016 05:48 EDT | Updated 07/25/2016 05:59 EDT

The Blended Family With Autism: Tips For A Smooth Transition


It's not uncommon nowadays to see blended families form from previous relationships that have ended. What was once a very delicate subject, divorce is no longer seen as taboo in society. When young couples decide to end their relationship, many will inevitable find love again and many still will have a little offspring with them.

While finding love a second time around is great, it's equally complicated when children are involved. Unlike the first relationship when you were both single and without children -- making it easy to focus on each other -- this new relationship is much different. This relationship is about you, your partner and the kids. This already makes the beginning of a brand new relationship a little tricky to navigate. Introducing a child with autism or other special needs into the equation makes the situation all the more complicated and one that needs serious thought before jumping in head first.

For the parent with a special needs child, your expectations will be much different than that of your partner, especially if they have never been around children with autism. Not knowing the full scope of what the child's daily needs are, can lead to some very serious issues in the relationship.

While it's you and your partner that are joyfully planning your future and blending your families together, the children are probably not as enthusiastic. They'll likely worry about all the changes that lie ahead like how the living conditions will be with their step-siblings. Will the relationship with the step-parent affect their relationship with their biological parent? If you are moving into a new home will they like the neighborhood and will there be children of their age to make friends with?

They have many concerns and so many children are not verbal about their fears. They see mom or dad happy and they don't want to be the one that rains on their parade. That's why is so important the transition in blending the families together is done as seamless as possible while respecting every person within this new family dynamic.

Blending a family with an autistic child can be very challenging but with the right techniques and strategies in place, it can be incredible beautiful and rewarding.

This is especially true for an autistic child who thrives on routine and familiarity. Blending two families also means a lot of changes in their routine and daily life which can lead them to become more anxious and stressed.

Blended families don't feel in unison or in sync right off the bat; it's not something that happens overnight. It takes patience, love, understanding, compromising and time. In our case, it took us a few years before we felt in sync, like a real authentic family. Having a child on the autism spectrum made this journey even more delicate.

The one thing that was necessary for my children during this transition process was space. They needed their own time to do their own thing. The last thing I wanted was to force them to do everything our new family was doing. If their step-siblings were into something they were not, I didn't want them to feel obliged they had to participate. I wanted them to find their own comfort zone and be happy with it.

Blending a family with an autistic child can be very challenging but with the right techniques and strategies in place, it can be incredible beautiful and rewarding.

Here are my tips to help you navigate the challenges of blending families with autism together

1. Slow and steady. Don't' rush into things. Too many changes too quickly will upset any child, especially an autistic child. This would be complete turmoil for them. They need time to come to terms with one family coming apart before trying to understand where they fit in this new one. They are used to routine and changing too much of their routine all at once can be devastating to them.

2. Game plan on parenting. You need to establish a plan with your partner on how you will be parenting the children. If your child with autism is used to a certain way of learning and being disciplined, then this must continue for them. Changing this would be detrimental. Therefore, your partner must be on the same page from the get go. If they are not on the same page, then you must both agree you will be the only one disciplining your child with special needs. The sooner this is established the better off you will all be, especially your child.

3. Keeping old routines. While it's a lot of fun establishing new memories and new family traditions, keeping old routines in place for the sake of your child is extremely important. For example, the new Friday night dinner and bowling is a lot of fun and that's great, but if your child enjoyed being alone with you on Saturday morning's to run errands and grab a snack at the coffee shop, then you should keep this routine in place. As important as it is to establish new family bonds, it's equally important to keep the same strong connection you had with your child.

4. Educating the step-siblings. Unless you educate your step-children on what autism entails and what that means for your child, they won't have a clue on how to be a great step-sibling to them. You are the best teacher to help them learn about autism and what they can do to interact with their step-sibling as well as reading the signs on when they need help or when they need some quiet time or even what to do if they begin to get upset.

5. Respect is non-negotiable. You can't make anyone like another person and you can't force any of the step-siblings to automatically and instantly hit it off. But one thing that can be done is having respect for everyone in the blended family -- with or without special needs. This part is non-negotiable.

Blending families is always a very delicate issue and every family is different. Making any family work in unison is challenging, especially when you have the added demands of a child with special needs. One thing that is very important to remember is we all make mistakes and we shouldn't beat ourselves up over all the errors we have done. We cannot go through a process such as blending families without making mistakes; impossible not to. We are only human. But know that tomorrow we get to try again, and hopefully, with a little more wisdom and little more patience, tomorrow will be better.

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