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Navigating the Complexity of Blending Families: A Closer Look at Autism and Stepfamily Dynamics

By Dr. Stephanie Holmes

Blending families can be a beautiful yet challenging journey, and when a child has autism, the dynamics become even more intricate. The pioneering work of Ron Deal and Dr. Stephanie Holmes sheds light on the unique considerations that come into play when blending a family with a child on the autism spectrum. This blog delves into their insights, offering guidance, understanding, and strategies for families navigating this complex terrain.

Understanding Blended Families and Autism

Blended families, also known as stepfamilies, are formed when two individuals with children from previous relationships come together to create a new family unit. This process involves merging different parenting styles, household routines, and emotional dynamics. When a child has autism, these complexities are further amplified. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges in communication, social interaction, and behavior.

Ron Deal's Perspective on Blended Families

Ron Deal, a prominent author, therapist, and speaker, has extensively studied and written about stepfamily dynamics. His work emphasizes the importance of understanding the intricate web of relationships that form within blended families. In the context of autism, Deal's insights take on a new dimension.

  1. Patience and Flexibility: Deal emphasizes that patience is a virtue in blending families, and this is particularly true when a child has autism. Flexibility in expectations and routines becomes essential, as children on the spectrum often thrive in structured environments. Parents and stepparents must work together to establish consistent routines that accommodate the child's needs.

  2. Clear Communication: Open and honest communication is a cornerstone of successful stepfamilies. This rings especially true when a child has autism. Clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and expectations can help avoid misunderstandings. Additionally, using simple and direct language aids effective communication with a child on the spectrum.

  3. Building Relationships: Developing strong relationships takes time and effort. This is magnified when a child with autism is involved. Stepparents need to be patient, giving the child the space they need to feel comfortable. Bonding activities can be adapted to accommodate the child's sensory sensitivities and interests.

Insights from Dr. Stephanie Holmes on Autism

Dr. Stephanie Holmes, a clinical psychologist with expertise in autism, adds a crucial layer of understanding to the blending process when autism is in the picture.

  1. Understanding Sensory Sensitivities: Children with autism often have sensory sensitivities. They may be overwhelmed by certain textures, sounds, or lights. In a blended family, it's crucial for all members to understand and accommodate these sensitivities to create a comfortable environment for the child.

  2. Predictability and Routine: Dr. Holmes underscores the significance of routine and predictability for children with autism. Blending families can disrupt established routines, causing distress for a child on the spectrum. Collaboratively creating a new routine that incorporates both families' needs can provide a sense of stability.

  3. Empathy and Education: Empathy goes a long way in fostering a supportive environment. Step-siblings, parents, and extended family members should strive to educate themselves about autism to better understand the child's experiences. Empathy bridges gaps and nurtures compassion within the family.

Strategies for Successful Blending

Blending families when a child has autism requires a proactive and patient approach. Here are some strategies drawn from the insights of Ron Deal and Dr. Stephanie Holmes:

  1. Unified Parenting Approach: Biological parents, stepparents, and other caregivers need to work together to establish a unified parenting approach. Consistency in rules, discipline, and expectations provides stability for a child with autism.

  2. Customized Bonding Activities: Engage in activities that cater to the child's interests and sensory preferences. This might involve adjusting typical family outings to ensure the child's comfort and enjoyment.

  3. Family Meetings: Regular family meetings provide a platform for open discussions. Everyone can share their feelings, challenges, and triumphs, fostering a sense of togetherness. These meetings can also be used to adapt routines and strategies as needed.

  4. Education and Advocacy: Educate extended family members, friends, and school staff about autism. This helps create a network of understanding and support that extends beyond the immediate family.

  5. Self-Care for Parents: Balancing the demands of blending a family with the needs of a child on the spectrum can be emotionally and physically draining. Parents must prioritize self-care to ensure they have the resilience to meet these challenges.


Blending families is an intricate dance of emotions, personalities, and relationships. When a child has autism, the dance becomes more complex, requiring a blend of patience, understanding, and adaptability. The wisdom shared by Ron Deal and Dr. Stephanie Holmes offers valuable insights into navigating these uncharted waters. By embracing empathy, communication, and flexibility, blended families can create an environment where every member, regardless of their unique needs, can thrive and find their place in the harmonious melody of family life.

You can hear 2 podcasts with Dr. Stephanie Holmes and Ron Deal discussing combining a blended family when a child is on the spectrum and when a spouse is on the spectrum at:

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