A new study has found that couples who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an 80% risk of getting divorce. The Adolescents and Adults With Autism study involved 391 families with autistic children and compared them with other families whose children were developing normally. The families were matched based on the age, sex and birth order of the child with an ASD, as well as the age, ethnicity and education of the mother.
Results showed that divorce rates among couples raising a child with an ASD were 23.5%, nearly twice as high as the 14% rate for the control families. The risk of divorce was even higher for families that had to contend with one or more older siblings in addition to the child with ASD. If the mother was younger when her autistic child was born she was more likely to divorce. The risk remained until their autistic child reached the age of 30. For the control families, the divorce risk began to decline when children turned 8, and was “virtually non-existent” by the time kids were 26, the researchers found.
Sigan Hartley, assistant professor of human development and family studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Centre, said, “There seems to be a prolonged vulnerability for divorce in parents of children with autism…Typically, if couples can survive the early child-rearing years, parenting demands decrease and there is often less strain on the marriage…However, parents of children with autism often continue to live with and experience high parenting demands into their child's adulthood, and thus marital strain may remain high in these later years.”
According to researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgia State University and Boston University, the results were not surprising but similar to those parents with a child with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. However divorce rates were not more common in families with more than one autistic child say researchers.
They concluded that parents coping with a child with ASD should get help in “identifying strategies to enhance their marital relationship in an ongoing way, such as learning how to best communicate with and support their spouse and carving out couple time”. They say, “It may be reassuring for parents to know that most marriages survive and thus their marriage is not destined for divorce, as is often incorrectly presented in the media.”
The findings were published in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.