Positive relationship changes when children have disability, autism or other additional needs
Raising a child with disability, autism or other additional needs can make your family stronger. This might be because you share parenting responsibilities more and talk more with your partner.
Raising a child with disability can also be an opportunity to learn from each other. For example, you and your partner might see your child’s needs differently, which is natural. This might mean you deal differently with your child’s behaviour and relate to them differently too.
To have a strong parenting partnership, it’s important to talk with each other about your views and feelings. Sharing your feelings can help you feel good about your relationship. And when you make time for regular catch-ups on how you’re feeling, it can also help you work as a parenting team.
Relationship challenges when children have disability, autism or other additional needs
Caring for a child with disability, autism or other additional needs can bring new challenges and more pressures to your relationship. Working as a team to find solutions can help you to handle these challenges.
You might find that you have to pay for transport, equipment, medical bills or essential changes to your house, which can strain your finances. If you can, try to make decisions together about budgeting, spending and saving money.
You can contact the National Disability Insurance Scheme on 1800 800 110 to find out about getting financial support. You can also contact your state disability service for information about financial support.
Employment and family roles
One or both of you might need or choose to cut your working hours to care for your child. A problem-solving approach can help you work out how to divide up household tasks fairly, balance domestic responsibilities, and look at flexible working hours or job options that suit both of you.
If you’re staying at home to look after your child, try to get involved in local community groups and activities. This can help you feel connected to your community.
If your child behaves in difficult ways, it can help to decide together how to consistently guide your child towards better behaviour.
A psychologist or disability specialist can help you plan appropriate behaviour strategies for your child.
Looking after yourselves and your relationship
It’s easy to get caught up in looking after your child’s needs, but looking after yourself is important too. When you’re physically, mentally and emotionally well, you’re better able to give your child what they need to grow and thrive.
Part of looking after yourself is doing things you enjoy as individuals like sport, music or social groups. A bit of time out helps you feel good. And when you feel good as an individual, you might have more energy for spending pleasurable time together and being close as a couple, which is good for your relationship.
You can also use time together for talking openly about your feelings and listening to each other without blame or judgment. This can help you understand each other and give each other emotional support.
And remember – it’s OK to laugh. A sense of humour can help you let off steam and see the funny side of things.
This time for yourselves as individuals and as a couple can remind you that you’re people, not just parents!
A family member or friend might be able to babysit, or your local disability service might be able to help you find respite care or babysitters who are trained in looking after children with disability. This can give you the time you need to connect, talk and listen to each other.
Working together on conflict in your relationship
Conflicts and tensions happen in even the strongest relationships. Here are some strategies that can help you with handling conflict:
- Make time to talk about things you’re worried about. Picking a time when your child won’t be around is a good idea.
- Sit down together and focus on what your partner is saying. Listen to your partner’s thoughts and feelings without interrupting.
- Try to say exactly what the problem is. For example, ‘I feel like I’m not getting any time for myself. I haven’t been able to get out for a walk for a week’.
- If you don’t agree with what your partner is saying, try to focus on the problem, not on your partner. For example, you could say, ‘I’d like to try a different approach this time’.
- Brainstorm plenty of different solutions to the problem to see what might work best. You can also talk about what the solution might look like. You could ask, ‘Are we both comfortable with this?’ or ‘Could we do this better?’
- Ask how your partner is feeling after the discussion, and make sure that you both feel you’ve had a chance to say what’s on your mind.
Support: why it’s important and where to find it
All parents need support. When you seek and accept support, you’re likely to be relaxed and healthier. You also set a good example for your children by showing them it’s OK to ask for help if you need it.
Support can come from:
- family members and friends
- other parents of children with additional needs
- peer support groups like MyTime
- disability associations or community agencies
- professionals like psychologists or relationship counsellors
- Commonwealth Carelink and Respite Centres – phone 1800 052 222.
When to get support for your relationship
It can take time to understand your child’s diagnosis and process your feelings about your child’s additional needs. You and your partner might go through a lot of different feelings.
Signs that your relationship might need attention include:
- loss of sex drive
- withdrawal from each other
- frequent arguments that you can’t sort out.
If you’re worried about your relationship, the first person you should talk to is your partner. You can deal with a lot of worries by talking openly – don’t be scared to talk about how you feel. You might also want to get in touch with a relationships counsellor or a psychologist.