Parents of Autistic Children No More Likely To Divorce Than Other Parents
There is a pervasive myth that parents of autistic children have a high divorce rate – as much as 80%, which is twice that of the US divorce rate for first marriages. A new study from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has found that this in fact is untrue, and that parents of autistic children have about the same divorce rate as other parents.
Clinical Director of the Center, Brian Freedman, PhD, will present his findings on Friday at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.
Dr. Freedman examined data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health which included almost 78,000 children ages 3 to 17. He looked at the family structure, including whether it was a two-parent household, a household headed by a single parent, or other structures. He also included children who were both biological and adopted.
The percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) living in a two-parent household, either biological or adoptive, was almost the same as the percent of children without ASD living in the same type of family structure – 64% versus 65%.
The findings held true when accounting for other factors, such as socioeconomic status. The researchers also considered the severity of the child’s autism, and that also did not seem to have an impact on divorce rates.
Additional co-existing diagnoses, such as ADHD, did cause a slightly higher chance of living in a non-traditional household. About 10% of children with ASD have one or more psychiatric diagnoses, according to a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
''There really weren't any significant differences in terms of family structure when you consider children with autism and those without," says Freedman. ''That debunks the myth of an 80% divorce rate.” Freeman says that he also searched for an original study that supported the myth, but never found one.
Freedman hopes that the finding will relieve some of the stress that parents of children with autism feel. Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks says that families of children with autism are under “tremendous stress” and this is good news. “It really demonstrates that despite the fact that these families are going to be facing a lot of challenges, we don’t have to assume that divorce is likely,” she said.
Freedman says that communication between parents is most important in dealing with children with ASD. Each parent should be allowed to express their frustrations. And while there is a tendency to place all focus and attention on the child and his needs, parents need to regularly schedule some times for themselves so they can maintain their relationship with each other. Support from family or friends is important as well, says Freedman.