Divorce and the Special Needs Child

Divorce and the Special Needs Child

A divorce comes with many challenges but they are truly magnified when the family has a child with special needs. There is so much to consider, not just pertaining to the home situation, but also school. The key is to have a plan in place before you begin the divorce process. The following tips are geared towards high functioning autistic children.


  • Use a picture book about divorce to guide discussion
  • Monitor the child’s frustration level
  • Make transitions as smooth as possible from house to house
  • Keep household rules the same at each house
  • If working with incentives, keep them the same at each house
  • Work with a co-parenting coach who has experience with HFA children
  • Hire an attorney that has experience with special needs
  • If needed, have your child see a therapist trained in special needs
  • Be aware the child’s anxiety will escalate
  • Work on the parenting plan with someone who understands HFA children
  • If needed, get a guardian ad litem to advocate for the child
  • Keep caregivers the same
  • Equip both homes with a set of books and school supplies
  • Encourage extracurricular activities
  • Have a visual visitation calendar in the child’s room that shows with pictures the days the child will be with mom or dad and activities
  • Use the tools of scripting and/or cartooning
  • Take care of your own needs


  • Meet with the school counselor and teachers to notify them of the divorce and go over possible resources
  • Monitor the child’s frustration level
  • Review classroom setup to insure child is sitting in the best possible place to feel secure
  • Discuss having a “social buddy” or aide
  • Have ongoing communication with the teacher about home and school behaviors
  • Brainstorm how transitions will be handled in the classroom


Remember, consistency, support, reassurance and love will be the keys to help your child navigate this difficult time for him/her.