Autism/Autistic grandson


My grandson was diagnosed with autism at age three. Their parents divorced shortly after with physical violence toward the mother. Since the divorce she has been sued three times from her ex. He has anger issues and was ordered by the court to take anger management classes. He now is suing for 50/50 custody or every other weekend custody. Now he has every other weekend plus every Thursday. I feel the change would be too disruptive for him. He shows very little emotion when Dad picks him up on weekends and whimpers. When Mom picks him up he runs to her and smiles. He is now 7 years old, non verbal. No co parenting is done because the ex refuses to talk only on the computer so there is a record of what is being said. What do you think about this constant changing of households from week to week?

What a tough situation; I can hear the worry behind your words.

Unfortunately, there is much about this situation that is beyond your control or that of your daughter's. We feel for any child in a custody dispute and want to wrap our arms securely around them, especially when that child has autism.

Kids are resilient, though - even kids with autism. While not ideal, he can still do all right right with this situation.

Let's look at the positives. The dad is interested in his son. I realize that some exes might seek shared custody as an alternative to paying child support. But a nonverbal  child on the autism spectrum may not be the easiest to manage. The fact that this dad has had some responsibility for his son, continues in the role and seeks more access means that he is trying.

You mention physical violence toward the mother but not toward the child. Again, a positive to keep in mind.

Even the fact that the dad only wants to communicate via the computer can be positive. Words spoken in person are fraught with emotions, especially when there is resentment, distrust or tension. But communicating via email is less emotional, giving each person time to consider how best to interpret and respond. Interchanges can be more civil.

We know that kids on the autism spectrum need stability and routine and structure. I'm sure you feel that that should be provided in just one setting. But kids can adapt. Maybe his normal will be a routine set in two homes. The key there is "routine".

Ideally, the parents would work out a routine that they'd each follow when they have this little boy. They might agree that bedtime is at 8 p.m., supper at 6, etc. It would be nice if they shared the same bedtime routine. For example, a bath at 7:00, then a snack, a snuggle, reading a story, then lights out at 8. There could be an agreed upon routine for getting ready in the morning, etc. Developing these routines would likely need to be a collaborative effort rather than one party attempting to tell the other parent how to mimic what goes on in one of the households. Definitely, it would require give/take on both sides.

But, if it is not possible to follow similar routines, this child can get used to different routines in the two homes. The key would be to remain consistent in whichever routine is followed.

Kids with ASDs have trouble making sense of their world; that's why they grow to rely on routine so much. Generally, once routines are set, some of the unwanted behaviors diminish.

Kids with ASDs also take in information they see much more readily than that which they hear. With kids with autism, talk less and show more. Generally as adults, we talk a lot and the more frustrated or upset we become, the more we talk. To a child with autism, as the emotions of the situations rise, their ability to process words decreases. So, take a deep breath, step back, give space and talk less.

A visual schedule can make a big difference. Again, ideally, the same visual schedule would be used in both homes, but if that is not possible, then each home should have their own that is prominently displayed so that your grandson can access it readily. The visual schedule could show what will be happening for him that day. For instance, the first picture could be of him getting out of bed, then using the bathroom, getting dressed, eating breakfast, leaving for school, etc. You could have a visual schedule in the bathroom to show him what he needs to do in the morning, a visual schedule in the bedroom that shows him the order to put clothes on, etc. Even if he requires help with these activities, still show him where you are on the schedule. For some kids, it helps if the picture is velcroed or paper-clipped onto the chart. Once each activity is completed, remove it from the schedule and place it in the waiting envelope so he can see the progression. Once kids get used to this schedule (through your teaching), then they grow to rely on it to guide their activity. This way the world does not come at them as a surprise, but they know what will happen next. It also build independence.

There could be another schedule that lets this little boy know which home he will be at each day of the week. It would help if his teacher was also aware of where he will be each night.

If you'd like to see how this plays out in a home, I wrote about a new dad learning to live with his son who has autism in the Amazon bestseller Autism Goes to School . You can take a look at <a href=">.

If all communication between the parents is recorded on the computer, then your daughter's attempts to make life easier for their son by meshing routines and schedules will also be recorded. It might help for a judge to view these efforts and to understand which parent has the best interests of the child first and foremost.

I know how worrisome this is. It sounds like co-parenting is going to be a fact of your grandson's life. It that's true, then it's part of his parents' jobs to help make the transitions as smooth and predictable as possible. It can be done and is done for many kids on the autism spectrum.

Best wishes,  


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Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell


Sharon can help with parenting and educational concerns. She has worked in teaching, special education, counseling and consulting for over thirty years and gives workshops to educators and parents on working with kids with autism spectrum disorders. Sharon speaks from both the education and parent points of view, having an adult son with Asperger's.


Sharon has spent decades as a special education consultant with a school district and autism consult for the province's Department of Education, giving workshops and individual consults. Currently she works as regional autism consultant for a health district in between teaching university classes. She is an Amazon bestselling author or a series of novels, each depicting a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Sharon's Master's thesis looked at the long-term outlook for persons with high functioning autism and Asperger's. Her Doctorate focused on strategies to help those with autism spectrum disorders.

Website at and sits on Autism Today's Panel of Experts (

Author of "Autism Goes to School" - a novel about autism that that became an Amazon bestseller. Get this Amazon bestseller free at In the next book, Autism Runs Away, Ethan is only in grade one and already has been kicked out of one school due to his tantrums and pattern of running away when in a panic. Now in a new school his mom remains glued to her phone, waiting for the call to tell her that they don’t know what to do with a child who has autism. Sara is about to learn if this new school is up to the challenge. ( Autism Belongs is the 3rd book. Manny's life has shrank to the confines of their house. His parents are desperate not to rock his world because the aggression has gotten to much worse. Where will this lead? Is there a chance that Manny could actually belong out in the world? You bet! Get a free sample at Book four, Autism Talks and Talks, is about a 12 year old girl who has Asperger's. She's bright, inquisitive, highly verbal, but lacks social skills. Try a free sample at Book five, Autism Grows Up features Suzie, a bright, twenty-one year old whose life collapsed after she finished high school. Now, she lives in her mother's basement, spending nights on her computer, afraid to broach the world outside their door. Autism Grows Up is found at Prefer a boxed set? Get the first 3 books bundled together at Co-author of bestseller, The Official Autism 101 Manual (

B.A. in Psychology, B.Ed. in Special Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership PhD. in Psychology Management, specializing in autism.

Awards and Honors
B.R.A.G. Medallion for the novel Autism Goes to School - Book 1 in the School Daze Series. ( Like Autism Goes to School, the third book in the series, Autism Belongs, also ranked #1 on Amazon ( Manny is not like other children. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t leave the house. His parents desperately try to arrange their world so that Manny does not get upset. Because, when he does, well, the aggression was getting worse. At ten, Manny was becoming difficult to handle.

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