Advice for blending families when one child is autistic and one is not.

Kristen - posted on 08/08/2011 ( 4 moms have responded )

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I am a single mother of a "typical" 7 year old girl. My boyfriend has a 7 year old autistic daughter. She is highly functioning, but the diagnosis was recent (since we started dating several months ago). He is still struggling to deal with the diagnosis and I'm trying to be as supportive as possible. His daughter's behavior is quite frustrating at times for my daughter to handle (aggression, taking things away from her, acting distant, being loud, etc). Are there ways to help a child that hasn't grown up with an autistic sibling to cope with the behaviors she displays? I understand her behavior is not always something she (or anyone else) can control, and that the diagnosis is just the first step in the process of helping her grow and learn. My boyfriend and I are talking about marriage so this is a long term thing. I am desperate to find ways of making this transitional time easier for both my daughter and his... as well as for the two of us. =0)

Thanks for any ideas and suggestions!
~Kris

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Kristen - posted on 08/11/2011

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Thank you ladies for the advice! I am going to order the All Cats book that Kristin recommended. I think that will be a good place to start. I checked out the siblingsupport website as well and discovered that they are going to have a "Sibshop" in my area beginning in the fall! =0) We will definitely look into joining that when it starts too. As for the separate rooms and special time with each child, we do have plans that the girls will have their own bedrooms. Because I think it is important for them to each have their own space, and to each have a "safe haven" from each other when being together has become too much. My boyfriend does not have full custody of his daughter so there will be plenty of time for my daughter to have time with us by herself. But having time for just his daughter may be more of a challenge due to the fact that she will only be visiting on weekends and my daughter will be there. However, we can and will make it a priority to give each of them time while she is here.

I can't thank you all enough! This has gone a LONG way toward helping me feel like this is something that we can handle. We are committed to making it work and having good advice from people who have "been there and done that" is one key to weathering this storm in our lives. Your advice has given me new hope that life maybe won't ALWAYS be so chaotic with the girls and that there are ways to manage things and make it easier for everyone to handle. =0)

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www.siblingsupport.com is an excellent website with all kinds of resources for siblings of children with disabilities - I'm sure you could find something useful there. I also highly recommend you and your partner take a marriage education class before you marry - lots of programs focus on blended families and you may find that extremely helpful - check out www.smartmarriages.com . Good luck

Kristin - posted on 08/09/2011

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Hi Kristen, I would recommend a book called All Cats Have Asperger's by Kathy Hoopmann. It is a beautifully written and illustrated book which explains Asperger's in a simple and positive way. I find it helps explain things to adults too, so it will help all the family, including the extended family. A Google search will find it easily. Amazon books currently has it on special for $9.97. You can even preview the first few pages!

It is wonderful that you are so supportive of your boyfriend and his daughter. Yes, it will be hard as you all adjust. I suggest joining a support group. The one in my area includes siblings who do not have Asperger's, giving them a chance to meet and talk about their feelings too. Some activities include all the kids, some are only for the siblings or only for the kids with Asperger's. And of course there are things for parents. The most important thing will be letting both children know that you love and appreciate everything about them.Your boyfriend's daughter will need extra help at times, so make sure your daughter gets special time with you and her future daddy too. Sometimes you may want to "swap girls" for a few hours, so both girls get time alone with the step-parent-to-be. If you can, separate bedrooms would be best, as then each girl has her own space. If that is not possible, then consider allocating "own space" and "common ground" in the bedroom....even if you have to put some tape on the floor the show where each section ends! Nobody can complain about mess/how the area is kept in the other child's area, and common ground must be kept in the state which parents say. That way, if one is super neat, and the other doesn't care, then there are less fights.

And don't forget to make time for you and your love! You will need time to recharge and reconnect. If you have family or friends who will look after the girls, then take a break and make a rule that you can't talk about problems at home. Only happy stuff on your time out. Good luck to all of you, it will be a rocky, difficult, and at times funny and entertaining journey....but it's well worth it!

Sandra - posted on 08/09/2011

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Hi Kristen, sounds to me as if you have a very positive attitude to making the transition work for all involved and thats the most important thing! It can take a long time for a diagnosis to sink in and your boyfriend will probably need time to get used to the idea. Putting him in touch with other parents in the same situation may help and take some of the pressure off you. As for your daughter, I would try some books about autism (aimed at her age group) may help and making sure that you have time alone with her to do things she wants to do and give her some space might help too. Let her talk to you in private and let off steam when she gets fed up with your boyfriend's daughter, 7 is very young and it's too much to expect her to be patient and kind all the time. Good luck & remember, things getter better with time and patience :)

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