Q: My son has been diagnosed as being on the autistic scale, high functioning. He also has OCD, possibly Tourette's syndrome, and can be trying at times, but he's my son and I want to spend more time with him. I'd like to have him two days with me, two days with his mother and alternate the weekends. His mother and I don't speak, and so I often petition the court to change the parenting plan, but they never do. I'm at a loss. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: There are a lot of red flags in your question. Let me first address the one that waves the brightest — it's that you have a special-needs child and you and his mother don't speak to each other. I don't care what happened in the past — a special-needs child in the autistic spectrum with OCD and Tourette's will be a challenge to raise. This is the exact reason I included "Ask for help when you need it," as Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 2. You need each other's support on this one.
Whenever I say something like, "I don't care about what happened in the past," I get e-mails calling me out while referencing horrible stories of mental illness or abuse and asking me what must I be thinking by suggesting something as ridiculous as "reach out to the other parent." In those situations, it's understandable if you aren't compelled to "ask for help if you need it." But, in most cases, when there is a problem, the other parent is the last person exes reach out to — and that's a shame because even though you have treated each other terribly in the past, the other parent is the only one in the universe who loves that child as much as you do.
He or she is pained when it's difficult for the child to assimilate into mainstream education or when other kids mimic his or her behavior. He or she celebrates successes and is saddened by failures. You and mom are not alone while raising your son. There is help — you just have to realize it and ask.
That said, a trait that is often overlooked when designing a parenting plan for children on the autistic scale is how much they crave order and consistency. These kids have trouble with change, and so a parenting plan that requires them to go back and forth every two days would not be in their best interest. Many children with an autistic diagnosis also suffer anxiety and have panic attacks and emotional meltdowns. It's imperative that both parents have a consistent routine in place to help a child cope.
My suggestion at this juncture is for both of you to sit down with your son's doctor and design a plan that incorporates coping strategies you have seen work for your son. Another goal would be to develop a working relationship with mom so that if you want more time with your son, you can call her up and say, "I have the afternoon free and I'd love to take our son for ice cream." And she can say, "Great, come get him." That's good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is founder of bonusfamilies.com.