Receiving a diagnosis of autism can be so earth-shattering that it’s sometimes hard to see past it. There is so much information to process and so much to do. Your brain is on overdrive, and your child is at the forefront the whole time. It’s so easy to forget yourself—let alone your partner.
Your partner, however, should be one of the first things you remember and one of the most important things for your child. Your partner is the one person who will feel this pain with you. He/she will be there for the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. There is no one else who will understand your child or the journey you have been on other than your partner. Yet more than 80 percent of couples with a child on the spectrum separate.
When you as a couple first receive a diagnosis, the news can be perceived differently. For me, I turned into a mama bear ready to fight. Fight for him, fight for it all. I was determined and took on the diagnosis head on, spending hours upon hours researching and finding all the best things I could do for my son. It became an obsession of mine. Everything else, including my partner, got forced to the back of the line. For Andrew, he was in denial, and he didn’t want to think about it. He carried on as if nothing was wrong, which of course infuriated me more and led to us growing apart. After a brief separation, we realized we needed each other.
It’s so easy to blame the other parent and to take out your frustrations and anger out one another. Understanding that every person deals with a diagnosis differently is one of the key points to remember. It doesn’t mean they are not hurting as well—it just means they are processing it differently.
Keeping a united front and building a stable foundation is so important to keep stability at home so that you and your family can grow and flourish.
Here are some things that really helped get my relationship back on track:
Treat your partner like you would your best friend
Keep the communication open, tell him/her how you feel, and listen without judgment. They say we take out our frustrations on those closest to us, and I know this was very true for me. It’s easier to point fingers and to blame than to actually try and accept. Remembering to treat your partner like your best friend will help you to feel compassion for them as well. It’s better to build a team together than divide.
Go on date nights with your partner
For one night a month, carve out time for you and your partner. Leave your child with someone you trust, close that door and be you again for even a few hours. Not the mom, not the dad, you as a person with your own needs and wants. Try not to talk about your child (children) for a few hours. Talk about your dreams and things you want to do in the future. Even better, if you can go to a funny movie or a comedy show, you will walk out of there feeling like a weight has been taken off your shoulders.
Do things for yourself
Just like it’s important to go on date nights, it’s important to go on a date with yourself. Fill your cup up, go to the gym, or go for a walk in nature. Go meet up with a friend and talk. Do things that you used to do before you were a parent. Maybe take up that dance class you used to do when you were a kid. Go for a massage and pamper yourself. Lots of spas are now offering special discounts for carers, so it’s worth asking in your area if they offer this. Trust that your partner is able to look after your child as well as you and go and have some guilt-free time alone. You will be a much better partner for it.
Seek counseling for you and your partner
Don’t be afraid to go and seek out some professional help. Having a mediator can be so crucial in those early stages and can give you some things to do at home to make sure everyone is feeling understood.
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Accept the diagnosis
Accept that each of you will view the diagnosis, react, and deal with it differently. That’s a fact you won’t be able to change. Don’t compare how you feel or how you are able to deal with the situation, don’t compare how “hard your lives are.” It is so important to keep mutual respect and understanding, that we all deal with things differently.
Don’t forget to ask for help
You don’t have to do this alone; ask family or close friends to help you carve out time for you to reconnect with your partner. Even an hour here or there will make such a massive difference. If you don’t have anyone who can help you, contact your local autism charity and they will help point you in the right direction to getting some respite help.
I didn’t have any help in the early days as I wasn’t near family and I felt my friends would not be able to cope with my son. So I contacted the national autistic society, and they put me in touch with a service that could offer me a couple of hours a week respite. This woman was a fellow mum whose autistic child had grown up. She came for an hour a week, and in that hour I would literally go upstairs and take a bath and read a book. Then as my confidence grew, I would go for a walk around the block with my partner, and we began to re It’s not all rainbows and roses for us, and we are still learning every day, but what I have learned is to take each day as it comes and to make sure I check in with myself and my partner.
This article was featured in Issue 82 – Finding Peace This Season