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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Parents of Autistic Kids at Risk of Divorce?

Study Shows Three-Quarters of Parents of Autistic Children Stay Married
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Second Opinion

Brian Freedman, PhD, clinical director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Institute in Baltimore, recently published a study debunking the myth that there is an 80% divorce rate among parents of children with autism.

And "this study seems to further debunk the myth, as the results indicate that over 75% of families with a child with ASD remained intact," he tells WebMD in an email.

"Families with a child with ASD certainly face unique and significant stressors [and] these important results further suggest the need for more research in understanding the family experience and will hopefully lead to greater resources being provided for family members," he says.

Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer of Autism Speaks and a research professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says the new study offers a more complete picture of the stresses that having a child with autism can place on a marriage.

"For parents of children with autism, the stresses and rate of divorce remain high throughout adolescence and young adulthood," she tells WebMD. Children without developmental delays become more independent as they grow up, and parents spend more time together, but "the picture is very different for parents of children with autism," she says.

Most of the services for families affected by autism target young children. "We have very few services for these children as they move into late adolescence and young adulthood," she says.

"When children with autism leave public school, they often have no opportunities for independent living, finding a job, or going to school, so it is a very stressful transition period for families," Dawson says. "Adults with autism tend to live at home so parenting is a lifelong activity."

All experts agree that the time is now to develop outreach programs to help teens and adults with autism and their families.

"We have to put an equal emphasis on individuals with autism and their families as they move into adolescence," Dawson says.  "We really don’t know a lot about the best ways to promote successful employment and living arrangements and help them succeed in college."

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