The failures of Family Court affect children with devastating consequences. Vulnerable, often abused or witnesses to abuse, children rely on Family Court to protect them, and ensure their well being in the choices they make when deciding custody or visitation. When that does not happen, children are traumatized and subjected to further abuse.
For children with special needs, such as Autism, the results can be particularly detrimental because not only is their safety being compromised but their medical needs are not being met. An abuser who gains custody of an Autistic or special needs child may neglect medical care or even deny there is a problem because they don’t want that child to get well, and reveal what is going on in the home. The abuser may also use the child as a pawn to gain control over the ex partner, to gain sympathy/attention or for financial benefit. Other abusers may neglect the child or not be able to handle the demands and resort to further physical or mental abuse. So these kids with special needs suffer the agony of a broken family while also struggling with tasks of daily life caused by their disability; their coping strategies are already weakened or impaired and the additional trauma can trigger symptoms or lead to crisis, causing their symptoms to worsen.
Another factor to consider is that if the Court does not have the education or experience to understand Autism, the child’s needs may be completely ignored or overlooked. In this case, getting help for the child becomes a legal battle—and is not considered a priority. An abusive father may negate the child’s illness, blame the mother or raise false allegations, and resort to manipulation to gain custody. Parents seeking help for their children are likely to lose custody because it now appears they can’t manage the child or the child only has troubles while in their care! And the abuser will be happy to point this out.
I lost custody of my son who is suspected of having Aspberger’s (high functioning Autism) in this way. I am sharing a little bit of my story to raise awareness, and to let other moms going through a similar struggle to know that you are not alone. Though I lost custody, I know I did the right thing to fight to get my son help. I will never stop fighting to bring him home.
The moment came with the darkness of raven wings soaring over my tiny one bedroom apartment, the realization that I have done all I could to help my son and now I had to let him go. The realization that Son (age 6 1/2) needed more help than I could provide (in-home PCA services and respite care) and since I shared joint legal custody with the abuser who was refusing treatment, I could not get that help.
The abuser fought my attempts to get treatment for Son knowing that when Son was well, he’d talk about the abuse. Already Son had disclosed that dad choked him, dad broke his toys, when dad gets mad the dog shakes…Son said he hit himself in the head with his fist because the pain took away the bad memories.
The abuser not only prevented treatment for Son but he would make no one would believe me when I asked for help by doing everything he could to destroy my reputation with various false allegations against me. I couldn’t just be a mother doing her best to help her troubled child I had to think like an attorney and anticipate the latest attack or legal charge the abuser would wage against me. I had to think like a therapist and find ways to help my son, often relying on my own resourcefulness and creativity. I had to be an advocate for my son. I had to be the punching bag when my son had a “meltdown” and take the hitting, biting, kicking, swearing and threats. I had to take it again when the abuser went to court claiming nothing is wrong with my son, I am making this all up…or I did something to provoke my son’s rage or I deserved to be hit. I had to hold back tears and stay strong.
When the moment came, Son had a “meltdown” and after hitting and spitting on me, I put Son in time out in the bathroom. A psychiatrist told me the bathroom was the safest place for time out because there was nothing Son could throw at me, and since I cleaned the bathroom out–nothing he could use to hurt himself. I kept the door open to keep an eye on Son, who leaned against the wall, heaving. His knees were to his chest and dark eyes glared at me, full of challenge. Son sat that way for some time when I turned my back to check on my daughter. Then I heard a loud crash BAM! Again, BAM! BAM! I ran to the bathroom, my heart racing. Son was now standing, pounding his small fist against the wall with such force that he was punching holes in it! Intervention was met with this fists pounding me. Tears welled in my eyes as I called 911. I knew when the police came, they’d take Son away..that there was a good chance my abusive ex would move to take my child away permanently. I also knew that things could not keep on this way, my son needed help. This was the hardest decision I had to make.
Later, in the behavioral unit of the ER, Son was strangely calm–detached, his face blank. He clutched his fist possessively to his chest. Then slowly his fingers uncurled, revealing a small chunk of drywall–a piece of the wall. Son would treasure this last reminder of home, and keep it with him through the changes that would come.
In a small voice, hardly audible, Son said, “I did this Mom?”
“Yes you did that Son.” I sighed, exhaustion dragging my shoulders down.
“Am I going to the hospbible?”
“Yes, to get help. We have to get you feeling better so you can be safe at home.”
“I like the hospbible. My big feelings go away.”
Since the abuser attacked me then threw the kids and I on the street like trash, we’d been homeless for months. Only recently had we been accepted into transitional housing. I wondered if the hospital psychiatric unit with it’s predictable routine, it’s warm bed and toys and fun OT activities, it’s dining room with meals Son could pick foods from several choices on the menu became the home, the safety Son was looking for. I felt like a failure. I fled the abuse to give my kids a better life and instead Son was falling apart.
“I’m gonna miss you Mommy. I cry at night for you.”
“I will miss you too Son.” I turned my head so Son would not see the pain written across my face, I’d do anything to have him come back home and be a happy child who did not struggle with memories of abuse.
— EJ 2011
For More Information: Autism Custody Battles