Data on autism and divorce

I’m well aware that when Jenny McCarthy made an appearance on an Oprah Show about autism, she said that the divorce rate among couples who have a child with autism is 90%. And I still remember reading the post Patricia Wright published here about Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) autism statement during the presidential election. In that statement, McCain said “divorce rates of parents of children with autism are well above the national averages.”

But until I read a Detroit Free Press article about autism, I had no idea that Dr. Colleen Allen, director of the Henry Ford Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities is also using a high number when talking about the divorce rate among couples who have a child with autism. From the article :

More often than not, it rips apart marriages. Eighty-six percent of the marriages with an autistic child end in divorce, according to Allen.

Data from the Easter Seals’ Living with Autism Study provided us with quantifiable information that families living with autism are significantly less likely to be divorced than families with children without special needs. Among those parents with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder and who have been divorced, only one third said their divorce had anything to do with managing the special needs of their children.

I was glad to see a O Solo Mama blog post questioning Dr. Allen’s 86% statistic, but I was disappointed O Solo Mama thought there was nowhere to find real data on this issue.

Many people have searched for it and have come up empty.

Of course I will be commenting to that post to give them the good news: their search is over. They can come to Easter Seals for the information they’re looking for!

A blog called Monterey Bay Forum found us, and that makes me happy. Their post about the Easter Seals Living with Autism Study starts out by suggesting that some of our findings were obvious:

Many of the findings aren’t exactly shocking, such as the fact that parents of the special needs children were highly concerned with their child’s independence and quality of life, and that they struggled financially and had concerns about their children’s education.

But it credits our study for providing data that was not available before:

And the rate? 30% for families with autistic children, 39% for the control group without special needs.

The Monterey Bay Forum post encouraged readers to download the Easter Seals Living with Autism Study to see the results for themselves.


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  15. Autism Children’s Ministry Revisted | Says:

    […] 86% of the marriages with an autistic child end in divorce according to Colleen Allen of the Henry Ford Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. […]

  16. Barbara Gaither Says:

    As a parent of a child with autism, I can certainly say that I am encouraged by the statistics that Easter Seals determined in their study. I also know that having a special needs child does put extra stress on a marriage, but I think that parents of autistic children know all too well how difficult significant change is for their child and if anything would try harder to keep the family intact for the sake of that child.
    Having a child with autism has stretched us in many ways as a family, but at the “end of the day” it has been a blessing in disguise for this family!

  17. O Solo Mama Says:

    Beth, I was aware of the research (as I stated in my reply to you on my blog) and I pointed it out to Dr. Allen, something I didn’t mention in my original post. From my e-mail to her:


    I was wondering if you had a source for this figure. I’ve been looking for studies to back up this divorce rate for a long time and can’t find any, except that there is an Easter Seals survey that does not back up this number.


    Unfortunately, every time I arrived on your site and clicked, it seemed I clicked and clicked and ended up at a press release which did not mention the divorce data. So I didn’t link to anything for readers at my blog. But now I have the link to the material: _12.4.08_Compressed.pdf?docID=83143

    I’ll send this to Dr. Allen.

    Also, when I mention that people had come up empty, I meant that they were not able to substantiate the 86% figure, not that people had found contrary results.

    It would be great to see the Easter Seals results replicated again. I hope they are.

    Good luck with your work and stay tuned.

    Jess (Osolomama)

  18. Dr. Cameron Jackson Says:

    Parents with a child newly diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may well wonder how the diagnosis will affect the life of their family. It is important knowledge from the Easter Seals study that families are not divorcing at a high rate due to an ASD disorder.

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