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Divorce Study Sheds Light on Families with Autistic Children

Anecdotally, it has always been assumed that parents with an autistic child have a harder go of it marriage-wise than is the case for families without an autistic child. Assuming that to be true, what does having a child with an autism spectrum disorder portend in terms of actual divorce statistics? Do parents of an autistic child divorce at a higher rate? If so, and in keeping with the majority of divorcing couples who have children without autism, is the divorce rate highest when the child is young, with a progressively lower risk of divorce as the child enters teen years and beyond?

Researchers from Georgia State University and other schools sought to find answers to those questions by examining 391 families in an “Adolescents and Adults with Autism” study that just concluded. The researchers compared these families – each having one or more autistic children – with a similar amount of “control” families that lacked an autistic child in the home. The families were matched as closely as possible on characteristics that included age and sex of the children and age, ethnicity and education of the mother.

The findings: The divorce rate for parents raising an autistic child was 23.5 percent, almost double the 14 percent rate for the control families. What surprised the researchers somewhat, though, was the disparity between the two groups in terms of when the risk of divorce decreased. For the control families, the risk declined about the time that a child or children in those families turned eight; by the time children turned 26, the risk was “virtually nonexistent.”

This was far from true for families with an autistic child, where vulnerability to divorce remained steady until about the time that the child turned 30.

Despite the study’s numbers, its authors stress a positive spin, namely, that around 75 percent of families with an autistic child do remain intact.

Related Resource: “Another risk for families dealing with autism spectrum disorders – divorce” August 4, 2010