It’s World Autism Awareness Week from 1st – 7th April. The saying goes “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”. I’ve always found that really helpful to remember when advising clients who have children with Autism or Aspergers because their child’s needs will be specific to that child. It’s not helpful to assume they will be like the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie “Rain man” or The Governess from “The Chase”, as they will have their own behaviours and personalities which need to be carefully factored into discussions surrounding the divorce process, so as not to cause unnecessary upset to the child.
I have, over the past 25 years of my family law career, encountered autism in a number of the cases that I have dealt with and, the experience of each case has helped me to help other clients who have this additional challenge to overcome as part of the divorce and separation process.
In some situations, having an autistic child or children may have put an extra strain on the marriage which has led to the relationship breaking down. In other cases, there may be very clear signs that the other parent has autistic behaviours (not always officially diagnosed), which makes co-parenting or meeting the emotional needs of a partner in a relationship a very real challenge.
Whether autism is a factor or not, in a divorce case it doesn’t really matter to me as long as I’m aware of it and can incorporate it into each part of the process. There are lots of issues that are challenging in my job as a divorce lawyer; autism is just one of them. The legal process is generally always the same; it’s just the people, their personalities and behaviours that make every case I deal with different. By adapting the advice I give to clients to their specific situation, a much better outcome for everyone can be achieved.