There’s no doubt that having a child with autism can put stress on a marriage. The same can be said for any number of puzzling childhood diseases. But a common perception that parents of autistic kids have high divorce rates — as much as 80 percent — is a myth, according to a new study from Kennedy Krieger researchers.
Using data from nearly 78,000 children ages 3 through 17 recorded by the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, researchers found that the parents of autistic children are just as likely to be married as the parents of their peers.
Some 64 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder have two married biological or adoptive parents, compared with 65 percent of children without autism, researchers found.
Brian Freedman, the lead researcher at the Baltimore-based Kennedy Krieger Institute, said that parents of children recently diagnosed with the disorder often quote the 80 percent divorce rate figure and feel an instant sense of hopelessness. But there’s no reason to believe that their marriage is likely doomed, he said. (In fact, no one knows for sure where the 80 percent figure first came from. But it’s been perpetuated for years.)
â€œWhile there are indeed stressors in parenting a child with autism, it doesnâ€™t necessarily result in the family breaking up more often than would occur in another family,â€ said Dr. Freedman in a statement. â€œAnd as someone who works with a team of health care professionals to treat and provide support for families of children with autism, itâ€™s important for us to make sure our patientsâ€™ parents know that, and for our fellow clinicians to provide reliable, evidence-based information about the divorce rate among this population as well.â€ …
At the same time, however, researchers know that parents of autistic children report more stress than parents of non-autistic kids, even more than parents of children with other disorders like Down syndrome. Mothers of autistic children, for instance report more depression than other moms, while dads are known to distance themselves from the family to cope with their stress, the study explains.
Regardless of the divorce rates, clinicians should continue to work with parents to provide them support to work through the stress, Freedman said.
The Baltimore Sun