Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Doesn’t Always Mean Divorce

October 4, 2013 10:57 am Published by Comments Off on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Doesn’t Always Mean Divorce

No child is responsible for his parent’s divorce.  However, when a child has a disorder that falls under the autism spectrum umbrella, parents typically experience higher than normal parenting demands well into the child’s adulthood.  The parents’ reactions to these stressful demands can lay the groundwork for divorce.  And, each parent’s reactions to the other parent’s reactions can finish off their marriage.

A long-term study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (published in 2010 in the Journal of Psychology – found that “parents of children with an ASD had a higher rate of divorce (23.5% versus 13.8%).  The good news is that most of the studied couples’ marriages survived.  In the study 76.5% of the marriages with an ASD child made it.  Interestingly, the divorce rate was similar to parents in the control group until the point the ASD child turned eight.  After age eight, the divorce rate for parents with a child on the Autism Spectrum remained high throughout the child’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.  The researchers called this a “prolonged period of vulnerability to divorce.”  In the control group, which was made up of parents whose children had no disabilities, the likelihood of divorce decreased when their children turned eight.

The factors that make it difficult for ASD parents to cope include:

•          Diagnostic uncertainty.
•          Projecting issues will continue long into the future.
•          The stressful nature of ASD symptoms and the associated behavior problems.  (Parents report that the behaviors are a bigger drain than intellectual delay.)
•          The lack of public understanding and tolerance for the behavior of children with an ASD.
•          Parents who may themselves have subtle impairments in social and communication behaviors.
•          Missing the “normal” life cycle pattern of an empty nest.  (Even though the empty nest does sometimes bring on divorce.)
•          Stress from the unique set of challenges of moving an ASD child into adolescence and adulthood, out of school, and into a job or a long-term care plan.

If you have a child with an ASD the top three things you can do to lower your divorce risk are:

1.  Give yourselves adult time, together and apart.
2.  Realize you only have limited control and while you will serve as the chief advocate for your child, you don’t have to micro-manage everything – let others share the responsibility.
3.  Put your marriage first, before your children, job, friends, and family.  If you keep your marriage in the forefront you ultimately better serve your children.  It’s a paradox.

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