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Don't Let Stress Destroy your Relationship After Your Child is Diagnosed with Autism

Stress in Autism and Marriage

When it comes to Autism and the divorce rate, many studies say the rate is up near 80%, while others rate the divorce rate somewhere near 20%. Either way, it is way higher than the rate for parents of non-special needs children. One of the reasons for this is stress and not sharing the responsibilities of raising the Autistic child. This isn’t an easy job to do and if you are doing it without help it is obviously even more daunting. Or maybe there are the moments when they do “help” and it makes things worse because your partner just hasn’t taken the time to get to know Autism like you have. No matter what the reason, a relationship coming apart at the seams is a devastating notion for any family, let alone one that has a child that is abhorrent to change.


I am about to get personal with you. I know many mother’s out there that are going through just this. I am not going to discount the fact that there are many rock star father’s that have taken responsibility and raise their children either with their spouse equally, or on their own as a single special needs father. I applaud those men, you are few and far between these days. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what your role is as a parent; what matters is that you are the primary care giver for a very difficult child. You need the help, you need a break from time to time and you need to be able to take care of yourself.

When those abilities are taken from you it feels like the walls are closing in on you at times. You have this partner that just doesn’t want to help in the ways you need them to; therefore, all the stress of the children falls on you. You find yourself begging for an adult conversation that isn’t technologically based. You yearn for someone to be there to help you during the meltdowns and the sleepless nights. Either this or you are on the flip side, as some of my friends are, and their partner screams and yells at their Autistic child during meltdowns and when they won’t sleep and makes matters worse. This leads to fights between the parents at the most crucial time for the environment to be calm. So, what are the biggest complaints that I have gotten from parents about why their relationships broke down after their child was diagnosed?

Lack of Understanding/Devotion

A lot of the time once a child is diagnosed one parent goes on the hunt to learn everything there is to learn, and the other parent shuts down and doesn’t research at all. They seem not to hear you whenever you try to teach them something that you have learned. They almost ignore the diagnosis. You tell them something isn’t going to work, such as punishments for normal children and they don’t get it. They continue to punish your Autistic child as they do your neurotypical children and it causes tension. They may even start calling you or your child names. Some people turn abusive when they can’t understand something or refuse to. This is not something you should put up with or allow.

Work is another issue that I have heard from a lot of parents I interviewed. Even if one of you work outside the house and one stays at home it should be recognized that the parent staying at home with the special needs child is working just as hard, if not harder than the parent working outside of the home (not to mention the parent with the job get to have other adult interactions daily.) It’s not fair to use your job as an excuse not to help with your special needs child once you get home. Even if you are tired, I bet your partner that pulled an “all-nighter” with your Autistic child screaming is tired as well.

Running Away

There are people I interviewed that said that their partner pushed their special needs child away because they didn’t know how to deal with them. This is something that not only hurts the parent that is obsessing over Autism, it hurts the Autistic child as well. A lot of our children are nonverbal and sometimes aggressive. They can't read or tell you why they can get sad or angry. Some of their receptive skills (how he/she understands and follows directions) are remarkable, some not so much. Most have a real connection to close loved ones. Raising a child with Autism is a constant challenge; and, being a parent of an Autistic child is an exhausting, exhilarating, and lonely roller coaster ride.

If one parent pushes the child away it leaves all the responsibility on the other parent, leading to more stress in the relationship. Things must be equal. IEP meetings, Doctors appointments, Therapy appointments, etc. they should all be shared and equal to the best of your family’s ability. One person shouldn’t be responsible for all these things and the child too. That is a lot of stuff to put on one person, along with the responsibility of keeping a daily schedule and routine.

Daily Schedule and Routine Changes

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Some parents have stated that their partners refusal to live by a schedule caused most of the tension in their relationship. Our children depend on routine and schedules to function properly and if one parent constantly disrupts the child’s schedule it nullifies every effort the primary care giver put in with the child that day. It is unfair to everyone involved and is selfish.

I have a very strict routine with my son and visual schedules everywhere. This is key to my sons’ being able to function. Both of them depend on a routine and schedule, as most Autistic children do. If there is a deviation from this schedule everything falls apart. I can’t count how many times I have been called a dictator because I demand things go the way I need them to in my home. This is something I have heard other women and men complain about. Their schedules not being kept and then fights ensuing afterwards. This will break down any relationship.

Disagreements on Treatments

Per WebMD, “There is no cure for autism, but early intervention using skills-training and behavior modification can yield excellent results. This type of educational and behavioral treatment tackles autism symptoms -- impaired social interaction, communication problems, and repetitive behaviors. It can also boost the chances of a child with child autism being able to go to school and participate in typical activities.” If you have a partner that is hesitant to get early intervention and wants to use the “wait and see” method, you may have a problem developing. As I have stated previously, you have to be on the same page.

WebMD also listed some important self-care tips for parents:

They wrote that “if you have a child with autism, it is important to get support. The day-to-day care of children with autism can be stressful. Making sure your child gets the help he or she needs can also pose a challenge, depending on whether quality support services are available in your area. At the same time, you are likely to have ongoing worries about your child's prognosis and long-term wellbeing. For all these reasons, you need to take care of yourself, as well as your child. Make an effort to reach out and find the support you need.

-Educate yourself. Learn all you can. Read about children with autism. Consult governmental and nonprofit organizations for more information on children with autism. Stay up to date on current research findings, and make sure you are looking at reputable sources of information.

-Build a support system. Seek out local groups and parent network organizations for families of children with autism. Ask your physician or child developmental specialist for referrals. Join online chat groups for parents of children with autism.

-Make time for yourself and your relationships. Try to schedule regular dates with your partner and outings with friends. Keep up with the activities you enjoy.

-Get help. Seek help if you or your partner is feeling persistently overwhelmed or depressed, or the stress of caring for a disabled child is affecting your relationship. Your healthcare provider can help you find a qualified individual, couples, or family therapist.”

If you are experiencing any of these issues or more, don’t worry, you are not alone. A lot of us are having the same issues with our partners. It takes extreme devotion and trust to parent a special needs child. You must have the right person in your corner to do it with you. Make sure you have that right person with you.