If you are the parent of an autistic child, you likely know firsthand the challenges that can come with rearing a child with special needs. You may have already experienced marital strife as a result of bumping heads when making parenting decisions for your child.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin’s Human Development and Family Studies department published research in the Journal of Family that showed there was an uptick in the divorce rate for parents of autistic young adults and adolescents.
No parenting end in sight
Part of the reason may be that parents of autistic children are increasingly vulnerable as their children become adults, but are still unable to leave the nest due to their developmental disabilities. Even so, as many as 75 percent of parents of autistic children remain married.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that roughly one out of every 110 children in the United States are on the autism spectrum and struggle with their communication and social skills.
These delays can cause autistic offspring to lag behind their non-autistic counterparts in their abilities to live independently on their own.
Researchers compared divorce data among nearly 400 parents with kids on the spectrum and families with no autistic children. What they found was a divorce rate of over 23 percent in the families challenged by autism compared to a rate of nearly 14 percent among parents of children without disabilities.
One interesting observation was that the divorce rates in the two groups remained fairly static until the kids’ eighth birthdays. Then, for parents of abled children, the rate dropped off. But for those rearing kids on the autism spectrum, those rates continued to climb.
Lack of options creates frustration
For most parents, their children’s trajectory to independent living as adults is predictable. After completing high school, kids either go on to trade school or college, enter the military or find jobs. They move out to begin living lives as unfettered adults.
Such is rarely the case for autistic young adults whose social and communication delays can prevent them from acquiring the skills necessary to leave the family home. As their parent's age and face their retirement years with their adult child still under their roof, it can create problems.
Parents can and should advocate for their children to be able to access services that would enable them to live independently in the community. But whether their efforts can save their marriages is questionable.
When divorce is inevitable
If you are the parent of a special needs adult child, you need to ensure that your divorce settlement covers your child’s needs as well as your own. A Sugar Land family law attorney with experience handling cases involving special needs children can provide advice and guidance.