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Are Courts Prep​ared to Handle Custody Cases Involving Autistic Children?​ 

December 28th, 2021

San Diego Single Mother's 3-Year-Old Son Taken Away Right Before Christmas 

On 15th of December 2021, a three-year-old son was taken away from his mother right before the Christmas Holidays and New Year 2022. This mother became a Mommy Volunteer member of the Autism Fragile X Foundation around 2016-2017, when her oldest son was diagnosed with autism.

While some parents struggle to accept or live in denial of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis of their child or children, others struggle to find the proper support and resources. Doing so is incredibly important for the well-being of autistic people as it is a spectrum condition and while some may excel in some areas of life, others may struggle to reach the same developmental milestones as their peers. For parents, tending to the needs of an autistic child who requires more assistance or a predictable routine includes adjusting their lifestyle to best meet their child's needs. While ultimately fulfilling for the development and well-being of their child, this can still pose a range of challenges for parents and other family members. Sometimes, a slight change in routine can disrupt an entire day and spiral into chaos, stress, and even a meltdown. Many children on the autism spectrum suffer from sensory processing disorders, and when they feel overloaded, a meltdown is an involuntary coping mechanism that can entail screaming, hurting themselves or others, or breaking objects. While it might look like a temper tantrum, it's mainly triggered by the child being overloaded either by sensory stimulation, information, or emotions and there is no underlying intention or plan involved. While distressing for the child and parents, this may also detract from a child's progress in other areas, and may possibly require more time to help them return to a more level state.

With this in mind, it is difficult to consider the detrimental ramifications that autistic children caught in the chaos of custody battles may endure, and there seem to be multiple areas in which courts could improve. Firstly, it is imperative that judges, doctors, behavioral therapists, psychologists, mediators, minor counsels, both parties' attorneys, and the courts are sensitive to the needs of families with autistic children. Secondly, courts should support and counsel both parents to work together in harmony to keep their child(ren) safe and secure in a familiar environment, where few changes are made to the child(ren)'s home life. Thirdly, an extensive observance should be recorded by the courts to evaluate the attitude and development of the child(ren) through their support resources, such as ABA therapy, doctors, and psychologists. This would help determine the best course of action for children who may need to be transitioned into other homes. Finally, all professionals involved should have a full understanding of autism and other co-morbid conditions.

Our foundation along with many others hopes that courts will gain a better understanding of autism and offer more appropriate accommodations to avoid unnecessary disruptions and detrimental stress to the families and children involved.

Further Reading Suggestions:

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