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Autism & Single Parenting: The Real, Raw, and Uncomfortable

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“Autism and Single Parenting”


 Hi, everyone! This is Susan Scott, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit My Autism Tribe, and host of the My Autism Tribe podcast. This is the first podcast where I am flying completely solo, and I must admit…I’m a little nervous (laugh). I’m nervous for several reasons: 1. I’m doing this all alone, so I have no one else to help me carry today’s topic, 2. I want to make sure that I represent this topic fairly and truthfully, and 3. This topic places me in a really vulnerable position. It’s real, still very raw, and most definitely uncomfortable. BUT this is where we find growth, right? I mean, my son is placed is uncomfortable situations every day, so why shouldn’t I place myself in uncomfortable situations?

Today’s topic is single parenting with children or loved ones on the autism spectrum. I know this topic doesn’t intimately touch everyone, but perhaps you know someone that is on this journey, and perhaps you still (even though not divorced) will relate to many of the points that I discuss today. I get asked (A LOT ACTUALLY) if I believe autism, in some way, lead to my divorce. I’ll go ahead and answer this question now, so we can move on. No. No, it didn’t. Not at all. Did it add stress to our relationship? Sure, but all marriage has stress. It’s how you choose to deal or not deal with it. I’m not going into details that lead to my divorce, out of respect for my ex-husband, but if I had to summarize our extremely long story into a very small nutshell, I would just say that we had different priorities…and I’ll leave it that.

When my marriage ended, I felt so many different emotions. I had guilt, anger, depression, and (just being honest here) relief. I felt every single one in a very deep and powerful way, but it was important that I felt all of these emotions because that was part of my healing process. I was grieving a relationship death, and entering into a world of unknowns as a mother with sole custody of a child with special needs. I honestly didn’t know if I could do it, but here I am. Still breathing, still loving, still caring, and dare I say, even enjoying life again. I’ve learned to trust myself, embrace new possibilities (just like this!), and I’ve put one foot in front of the other. I’ve surrounded myself with friends and family who not only support my decision, but have grown to understand the many reasons that I did what I did.

Divorce is such a difficult decision to make, because it affects so many people. It not only affected my son, my ex-husband, and myself because we had to redefine what our version of “family” was, is, and will be in the future, but it affected our extended family and friends.

I soon realized that single parenting a child, especially one with special needs, can be isolating at times, but it is doable. It also feels like piloting a single-engine plane in a storm, but you always come out the other side. Single parenting is super tough – I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I’ve been fortunate enough, through this platform and through other intimate conversations that I’ve had with other parents on the same journey, to hear their fears, frustrations, and I thought I might share some of these with you as well. Granted, single parents with children on the spectrum do not experience these fears or frustrations every single day, but I found that AT LEAST one time or another, I drew a line to every one…and I know that parents and caregivers who are not divorced have experienced many of these as well. Let’s get started.

Exhaustion: Where do I even start with this? Maybe with the word coffee? When you’re a single parent, you’re doing (most likely) everything by yourself. You’re maintaining a job, coordinating therapies, fixing breakfast, lunch and dinners by yourself, supervising everyone in your child’s life, educating others, advocating for your child. This list goes on and on and on. I’ve reached places of loneliness that I didn’t know existed…foreign lands that I had only read about in books. That’s one of the reasons that I formed My Autism Tribe. You guys just get it. Divorced or not.

Another one is financial stress. This one is a doozy. Not only are you putting food on the table, clothes on everyone’s body, paying the mortgage or rent, putting gas in the car, but also paying for therapies, insurance, child care (in the case that the stars align and you are actually able to go out and do something for yourself), assistive technologies if your child needs them, extracurricular activities, books, etc. It’s a lot, but one thing I learned very early on, and this was before marriage, before a child, was to create a budget. I make a list of all our needs, sprinkled in with some wants, and I balance the numbers. Sometimes, a lot of times, it’s in the red…and that is terrifying. Last September, the company I was
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