Autism Information

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Does Autism in the Family Lead to Divorce?

Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, and many others cite enormously high divorce rates among parents with autism. Those rates seem to range from 80-90% - an incredible figure, if true.

But so far as I can tell, having researched the topic in all the usual places plus a few more (personal connections to reearchers in the autism community), there is no basis for these claims.

Yes, divorce is high in the United States, fluctuating at about the 50% mark. Having a child with a sickness or disability does raise the divorce rate, and I was able to find one published research study about parents of children with ADHD which suggests that STRESS, but NOT DIVORCE, is higher among that population:

Numerous studies have asserted the prevalence of marital conflict among families of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but evidence is surprisingly less convincing regarding whether parents of youths with ADHD are more at risk for divorce than are parents of children without ADHD.
While autism isn't the same thing as ADHD, there are similarities. Certainly, spouses are likely to react differently to "bad behaviors" linked to diagnosable disabilities. How DO you punish a child with autism or ADHD? Or do you just accept the behaviors as part of a child's personality?

What makes autism particularly tough is that there is no one (or two, or three) accepted treatments for the disorder. And the disorder itself is incredibly broad ranging and difficult to pinpoint. Parents certainly disagree on which of dozens of treatments and approaches is "right" for their child. And parents, of course, disagree on how much money to spend on a particular therapy, school, or biomedical intervention.

In short, while I don't honestly believe that 80% of parents with autistic children divorce (because there's no basis for that figure), I certainly DO believe that 80% (or more) are often under extra stress. In some cases, coming to an agreement on autism-related issues can strengthen a marriage. In other cases, that stress simply splits the marriage apart.

In our case, autism has not only NOT split us apart, it has brought us closer together. We found that we tend to agree, philosophically and financially, on our choice of therapy, schooling, and daily life activities. But what if one of us was a true-blue believer in biomedical interventions while the other was convinced that biomedical interventions are a waste of time and money? Could we find a middle ground?

It would be really unfair to use autism as a reason because it is supposed to pull us together and to help each other, not draw us apart. I think that the couples who have divorced because of autism in the family are unfair. They are also trying to hide the fact that they just don't want to deal with it. If you've noticed early on in the article, it was celebrities who were complaining the most. Go figure!


  • Good point. The divorce rate for celebrities is probably 95%.

    PS - I added you to the Autism Retort.

    By Blogger FieldingHurst, at 7:39 AM  

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