Autism does not ruin parents’ marriage: Study

May 20th, 2010 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 20 (IANS) Autism does not ruin relationships, says a new study, challenging the popular perception that an autistic child wrecks 80 percent of marriages as a heavy burden is imposed on parents.
Brian Freedman, clinical director of the Centre for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI), said the findings seem to debunk a lot of the misunderstandings about high divorce rates among parents of autistic children.

Freedman and his team found that 64 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) belong to a family with two married biological or adoptive parents, compared with 65 percent of children who do not have an ASD.

Receiving the news of a child’s autism diagnosis can be devastating, and Freedman said the pain is compounded as parents ponder what will happen to them as a couple.

“In the work I’ve done with children with autism, I’ve come across many couples who quote this 80 percent divorce rate to me,” said Freedman.

“They don’t know what the future holds for their child, and feel a sense of hopelessness about the future of their marriage as well - almost like getting a diagnosis of autism and a diagnosis of divorce at the same time,” he said.

With very little empirical and no epidemiological research addressing the issue of separation and divorce among parents of children with autism, researchers sought to more scientifically examine the incidence.

Using data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, they examined a nationally representative sample of 77,911 children aged three to 17.

Previous research held that parenting a child with autism is stressful and it puts pressure on the marriage.

Freedman noted that past studies have found married couples with an autistic child experience more stress than couples with normally developing children or couples with children with other types of developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome.

Mothers of children with autism report more depression than those with normally developing children, while fathers report they deal with the stress by distancing themselves and becoming less involved with the family, said a KKI release.

“While there are indeed stressors in parenting a child with autism, it doesn’t necessarily result in the family breaking up more often than would occur in another family,” said Freedman.

Freedman will be presenting his findings Friday at the Epidemiology 2 Session at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.

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