"We're waiting on diagnosis and suspect ASD/ADHD"
What am I dealing with?


While some disabilities and conditions can be diagnosed early on in a child’s life (perhaps even during the pregnancy), others can take a lot more time, which can be difficult for parents who are waiting to find out. Sometimes parents have this wait for several months or even years after the baby is born – this is particularly common for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

This time of limbo can also be a time of friction for divorced or separated parents, as they might argue about what issue the child has or how to cope in the meantime.

Why is communication so difficult?

  • ‘Disability’ is a very broad term, and each disability or condition will affect the individual and their families in different ways. Where certain conditions are harder to diagnose like autism or ADHD, studies have shown divorced parents will typically argue over whether or not the child has the condition they suspect(1). They also argue a lot about the steps that need to be taken to getting a diagnosis.
  • As the loving parents of your baby, one (or both) of you might be struggling to accept that your baby could have a disability and feel reluctant about having your baby tested. This form of denial means that, as separated parents, you might also find it difficult to talk about things practically and realistically.
  • Parents that support their child’s additional needs as a couple living together can create routines, rules and a home environment that work for the child. Whereas living apart means that two sets of rules and routines are running separately. For a child that suffers with ADHD or ASD, this can be an even greater problem as they may not adapt well to change.
  • Even following a diagnosis such as ADHD or ASD, it’s not as though there’s then a right or wrong way of raising your child. There’s no rulebook – it’s all about learning about your child as a person and how they handle their condition, then applying the medical knowledge of the condition where you can. And because there’s no right way or wrong way, one parent may think they understand the condition better than the other, which can lead to conflict.
  • If one parent spends more time than the other with their child, they may feel they have closer first-hand experience of the disability. This can cause one parent to feel they are better informed to take lead in the decision-making.

How do I help the situation?


Learning to communicate better is even more difficult if you’re divorced or separated. But communicating better with your ex could make everyone’s lives a lot easier, including your child’s.

  • Coming to terms with a potential disability is tough for any parent. And if your partner is showing signs of denial, you will need to talk to them sensitively given that they are using this denial as their coping mechanism. Try to approach the subject with care and take it slowly – they may just need some time to come around. Always try to be positive, even though this is a tough conversation to have.
  • While your romantic relationship is over, the relationship still functions in a different capacity as parents – that relationship still needs work and effort. Although this is certainly easier said than done, try to put aside your feelings for the good of your child, and encourage them to do the same. You can still show one other respect, particularly where shared decisions need to be made.
  • A recent US study found that: “In many divorced families, conflicting parental viewpoints are especially apparent when children do not have equal time in both households (1)*.” In other words, when the child spends more balanced time with both parents in their homes, the parents are less likely to clash. This likely comes down to the parents feeling that there’s a shared effort where both parents are playing their parts.
  • Another way you could improve communication is with the help of a parenting plan – one that you don’t have to complete together in the same room. Parenting plans like Put Kids First are online, and enable you to work together separately in a more seamless way to help reach decisions without conflict or fuss.

 References:

[1] Pickar, Daniel B., and Robert L. Kaufman. “Parenting Plans for Special Needs Children: Applying a Risk-Assessment Model.” Family Court Review 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2015): 113–33.

* Note: this research relates specifically to parents that have children diagnosed with ADHD.

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