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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Autism Families: High Divorce Rate Is a Myth

Study Shows Divorce Rates Are Similar for Parents With and Without Autistic Children
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Structure of Families With Autism

Freedman examined data from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, including a nationally representative sample of 77,911 children, ages 3 to 17.

He looked at whether the family structure was a two-parent household, with either biological or adoptive married partners, or was not traditional, such as a two-parent household including a stepparent, a household headed by a single parent, or other structures.

The percent of children with ASD living in a two-parent biological or adoptive household was close to the percent of children without ASD in such a family structure -- 64% vs. 65%.

That percent held even when the researchers took into account other factors that could have affected family structure, such as socioeconomic status or demographics.

The researchers also considered the severity of a child's autism and whether that had an impact on family structure. "That also did not seem to have an impact," Freedman tells WebMD.

When Freedman took into account co-existing psychiatric and other problems, such as ADHD or serious behavioral problems, in children with ASD, he found that the likelihood of living in a non-traditional family structure increased slightly.

''Those disorders in fact did seem to have implications for divorce," he says. Even so, he says, "I would not say it dampens the idea of debunking the 80% divorce rate.'' He points out that the overall percent of 64% of kids found to live in a traditional family structure includes those families whose children had both co-existing diagnoses and ASD and well as those children with ASD alone.

About 10% of children with ASD have one or more psychiatric diagnoses, and 83% have developmental diagnoses, according to a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Second Opinion

The new study may help reduce anxiety among parents of children with autism, says Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer of Autism Speaks and a research professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who reviewed the study results for WebMD.

''The 80% divorce figure has been part of official lore for decades," she says. "I think it may stem from the fact that we do know parents of children with autism are under tremendous stress."

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