Health Magazine

Single Parenting and Kids on the Spectrum - Part 1

By Gbollard @gbollard

I get a lot of correspondence from single parents with autistic children. In the vast majority of the cases, it's single mothers with boys, though sometimes it's fathers and sometimes it's girls. 

I can't claim to be an authority on the subject because I am not, and have never been a single parent but I've had feedback to say that my advice has worked and I've seen some incredible single parents complete the journey and bring their kids up to be responsible and empathetic adults.

In this series, I'd like to look at some of the techniques that work, starting with younger kids. I'll cover older kids later on in the series. 

Single Parenting and Kids on the Spectrum - Part 1

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Being Under-Resourced

More often than not, single parents face resourcing issues. They are short of cash, time and space. This makes it difficult, particularly when the other parent is over-resourced. You can't compete on a low income with a parent who can afford to buy your kid anything they ask for. You have to make sacrifices.

It's not all bad news though. At younger ages, many of the best bonding activities are free. Taking a walk to the park, doing the shopping together, cooking together and doing crafts or playing together are all activities that need time, not money. It's common for over-resourced parents to spend a lot of money on their kids but not much time. 

Right now, money might seem to be the winner but as they grow older and look back on their relationship with you, your kids will appreciate that the time you spend with them was more valuable. 

One of the biggest problems of under-resourcing is space. Most young kids can't help themselves and will spread their toys throughout the house making every room a potential barefoot-Lego death-trap. No matter how much you ask, some kids simply never learn to clean up after themselves. 

If this is your kid, then one of the best options is to box up their toys into "groups" within boxes. For example, I always put my son's army toys in the same box as his dinosaurs because this allowed him to cross-play between them (their sizes were more or less relative). 

The rule then becomes that they can have another box as soon as the first one is fully packed up. Of course, in order for this to work, you'll need to keep the boxes somewhere, such as the garage, where they're not easily accessed. 

If you do have some space, try to have the toys in a different room to the bedroom because having a bedroom full of toys means that your child will play with them instead of sleeping. It also means that you either have to tidy up every night - or risk stepping on things in the dark. 

Arguments

At young ages, the "war of words" won't be very sophisticated and you can't expect common sense to prevail. You may well be able to find ten good reasons why your child shouldn't do something but it won't make any difference. If you nit-pick every little thing, you only damage your relationship with your child, especially if the other parent is overly permissive. 

Pick your battles. Only get involved in arguments with young children if there's a very important gain for both of you. For example, preventing your child from leaving the house on their own. 

If there isn't, then don't waste time on it. You can try to force a given behavior such as "cleaning your room" but if things become too stressed, you need to let these things go for the sake of your relationship. If this means that you have to close the door on messy toy rooms when visitors come over, then that's how it is. Most visitors will understand - and those judgemental people who don't will have outed themselves as people your don't need in your life. 

Shorten your feedback. We all want to teach but if your child is not not ready to listen, you're wasting your breath. If your child is literally only going to hear the first couple of words, then get your message out in those words only. Be short, authoritative and direct. Don't engage in debate. 

Reduce any violence in your parent-child relationship by not tolerating violence or shouting. Don't do it yourself (though it will be tempting at times). If your child starts to shout, say calmly. "We're not talking if you are shouting". 

If they continue to shout, leave the room. If there's any violence, leave the room. Do not engage if they are displaying any form of negative communication. You need your kids to understand that it fails. Giving in to negative communication will reinforce it and make them more likely to use it next time. 

Gender Balance

While I don't want to go so far as to say that a child needs both a mother and a father (they don't), I do want to suggest that males and females bring very different things to the relationship. There is nothing wrong with single sex families but exposure to the other gender can open a lot of doors and bring new insight and new experiences. 

If you still have contact with your child's other parent, the time spent with that other parent will hopefully be educational. This is particularly important if your child is not the same gender as you. Of course, if the other parent is uncontactable or is not a good role model, there are plenty of other opportunities to explore. This could include teachers, scout leaders or simply grandparents. 

Gender balance is still possible in same sex relationships but no matter how hard you try you can never be sure that you're providing the whole experience. Often, if you don't provide gender balance opportunities for your child, they will find their own.

Happiness and Energy

The key to any successful relationship is happiness. So long as you and your child are happy, your circumstances don't matter. 

As a good parent, you're probably doing your best to keep your child happy -- but are you looking after yourself?

You need to take steps to ensure that you remain happy. This means that you need to take time out to work on yourself and on your happiness. Even though you are doing the best that you can, you can't expect to be the best carer if you don't look after yourself. 

You need to get regular rest, slow down and try to get more enjoyment out of your day. Sometimes this means that you need to offload your child to respite, to parents or to your ex. Having a break when you need one will mean that you have more energy to spend on positive experiences with your child.


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