Co-Parenting a Neurodivergent Child

When parents share legal or physical custody of their child, they must have some measurement of agreement on how to raise the child. This is more so the case when the child in question is neurodivergent. Suppose parenting occurs in two households between parents who are not in a relationship? In that case, the challenge of tending to the needs of a neurodivergent child becomes more complex, even as consistency is imperative.

What is Neurodivergence?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “neurodivergent” is a non-medical umbrella term used to describe people whose “brains develop or work differently for some reason. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically.” Neurodiversity is commonly thought to include autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. Since most of society is structured to accommodate the needs of neurotypical individuals, parents of a neurodivergent child often need to find ways to help their child do well in various contexts that do not present a struggle for a neurotypical child.

The Challenge of Change

When the family dynamic changes, the transition to a new “normal” can be challenging for neurodivergent children in several ways because routine and familiarity can be crucial to the well-being and functioning of a neurodivergent child. In addition, children with conditions like autism spectrum disorder may have trouble processing the change in the family composition as well as difficulty expressing their feelings about the loss and grief that often accompanies the change. Finally, the adjustment to moving between two homes can overwhelm the child, creating a consistent, difficult change in routine for them. While co-parents may have trouble working together, they should support their neurodivergent child by trying to minimize disruption and change for their child.

Creating Comfortable Consistency

Establishing routines is only part of the equation. Supporting a neurodivergent child also requires ensuring their environment is stable and comfortable. To the extent possible, parents should be mindful of sensory overload challenges when looking for a new home. Going back and forth between two homes can be confusing and unsettling. Parents should work together to ensure both homes are equipped to meet the child's needs. Minimizing change by arranging to keep the child in the same school or daycare can also be critical to their emotional stability. Finally, the changes in the family dynamics can lead to emotional dysregulation, so parents should ensure that their neurodivergent child has access to therapy and coping mechanisms to support them in processing the change.

Avoiding High Conflict and Planning Ahead.

High levels of conflict between parents can be incredibly distressing for neurodivergent children. If they can, parents should make every effort to minimize overt conflicts and consider utilizing mediation or counseling to resolve disputes. If parents cannot resolve their conflicts outside of court, attentive care should be taken to apprise the court of the unique needs of the neurodivergent child when making decisions about custody and support. Some neurodivergent children may require ongoing care and intervention through therapy or other support. Decisions about custody, support, and medical care should be carefully considered to ensure the child's best interests are met.

All children need support when the family composition changes; however, neurodivergent children can be incredibly vulnerable to disruption and change, making them more easily susceptible to family-originated traumas. To the extent possible, co-parents should strive to work together to ensure their child gets through the transition and settles into a new dynamic with minimal disruption and extra support. The participation of trained professionals to help with the child’s needs and the legal issues can be invaluable towards this end goal. At Reese Law, we look at the entire family when we work with our clients, and our advocacy and mediation services can help facilitate a softer landing for all involved, including neurodivergent children. Contact us today for a consultation. 

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