Autism & Divorce

by Norris Law Group on January 2, 2014

parenting-a-child-with-autismWhat does research reveal about autism and divorce rates? Kimberly Grosso, MBA in Health Care Administration and divorced mother of a son with Asperger’s writes about this topic in an article in Psychology Today.

One 2010 study published by Hartley et al. found that parents who had a child with autism had a higher divorce rate than parents without a child with autism. A separate 2010 study by Dr. Brian Freedman of the Kennedy Krieger Institute found no significant difference in divorce rates: “64% of children with autism lived with married or adoptive parents compared to a rate of 65% for children with no autism diagnosis.”

Grosso submits that a diagnosis of autism has the impact of “any other great life stressor.” Additionally, the autism diagnosis is a “life changing event” for the parents and the entire family. If a marriage is strong initially, the couple may survive. If, however, if a marriage is already experiencing conflict, autism and its attendant stressors may prove to be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

In order to examine parents’ perceptions of divorce and autism, Grosso conducted a survey of divorced parents who have a child with autism. She asked these parents whether they believe that autism was the primary reason for their divorce, and if so, how the diagnosis of autism contributed to the divorce.

Fifty-two divorced parents who have a child with autism responded to Grosso’s survey. Seventy-eight percent said that they divorced after their child’s diagnosis. Seventy-six percent said that autism was not the primary cause of their divorce. While the majority of respondents did not consider autism to be a primary cause of their divorce, 50% did say that autism was a contributing factor.

Of course, this was a small-scale survey, and the data collected may have some limitations. It may, however, offer some insights into how to help parents alleviate stress and/or strengthen their marriages. Some suggestions might include:

  • Autism organizations reaching out to new parents with effective stress management strategies;
  • Doctors advising parents about how to alleviate stress and whom to contact within the autism community;
  • Parents joining a local autism support group to communicate with others familiar with their situations.

Gross concludes that researchers, doctors and others interested in helping families of autistic children must listen to parents about how and why divorce happens among the autism community. A diagnosis of autism in a child does not mean that a marriage is doomed to fail. Stress, however, was a factor for many of the respondents to Grosso’s survey. Working to alleviate this stress may help marriages of parents of autistic children a better chance of success.

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the area of divorce. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.

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