For years, there has been an urban legend that 80% of the parents of autistic children got divorced. The good news is that actual research does not bear that out. A well-regarded 2012 study by Freedman found that 64% of autistic children lived in two-parent homes, about the same as for other children. A much smaller study, by comparison, estimated that about 24% of the parents of autistic children over age 10 divorced, compared to 14% of the parents of non-autistic children older than 10. Research seems to show that the parents of autistic children stick it out, but at a high personal cost.
Autism Is Increasing Worldwide
Autism is a worldwide problem. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one child in 68 will have ASD (autism spectrum disorder). There are approximately four times as many autistic boys as girls. ASD affects about 2 million people in the U.S., and an unknown tens of millions throughout the world. The number of those with autism increases as much as 17% each year. A partial explanation for this increase is environmental factors and improved diagnostic procedures, but a complete explanation is still unknown.
Stresses on the Family
The bad news is that autism puts a tremendous stress on a family. One parent, typically the mother, spends much of their time focused on the autistic child. In the earlier years, particularly, they may try one therapy after another, trying for a break-through to the child. Other children and the spouse often feel ignored. The other children may begin acting out their unhappiness. The working spouse may work longer hours than necessary, using work as an escape from the home. The at-home parent resents carrying most of the burden of home and children; a nasty cycle of accusation and resentment stresses the marriage.
When the autistic child becomes a teen, the marital and home situation can reach a breaking point. The costs of either keeping the child at home or in an institution can cause severe financial problems. Just imagine how bad it could get with more than one autistic child in the family. According to Johns Hopkins University, more families include more than one family member with some type of autism than has ever been seen before.
Counseling can Help
Counseling can be very helpful to couples with an autistic child, but it’s important to locate a counselor with experience in helping parents of special needs children. Parents have typically had their own needs pushed into the background while they dealt with today’s crisis. Eventually, they need to deal with their own issues with an experienced mental therapist who understands the situation and can offer practical help.
couples therapy is a Jungian therapist who has been assisting people to make positive changes in their lives for over 25 years. She understands the unique challenges of autism and the family situation, while helping parents to recognize and manage their own personal issues.