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Autism spectrum and child arrangement disputes

Child arrangement disputes can be particularly complicated in cases where the child or children in question has Asperger’s or autism.
Estimates suggest that there are some 700,000 people in the UK with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a broad classification which includes everything from a diagnosis of mild Asperger’s through to the most serious cases of autism. Partly due to the additional pressure that this can place on families, divorce rates of couples who have autistic children can be as high as 80 per cent.
Because ASD is such a broad description, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are some broad principles that couples and family law practitioners should take into account.
Firstly, any existing or ongoing assessment for ASD should be mentioned to the judge and/or legal representative as soon as possible. If necessary, proceedings can be delayed until an assessment has been carried out. This means that any psychological, medical or educational reports can be taken into consideration. It also allows the court to make a decision based on the developmental age of the child, rather than their actual age, which would usually be the case.
If one of the parents has been less involved in day-to-day parenting, courses can be arranged to help them look after an autistic child. These courses can also help couples to avoid common misunderstandings about the reasons for the child’s behaviour and the way this might ostensibly reflect on each of them.
Lastly, a diagnosis of ASD may have implications for any other children who are the subject of arrangements. Because children with autism can be more demanding in terms of time and energy to care for, other children – whether they have autism themselves or are neurotypical – may need dedicated time with each parent, separate to any time they spend together with the parents and their siblings.

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