Divorce and disability: is it all a lie?

My husband Mike and I have a 20-year-old son with severe and profound mental and physical disabilities. When I was trying to get my first book “Long Time, No See”  published, I said something in the cover letter to potential publishers about the divorce rate among couples who have a child with a disability.

I hoped the high divorce rate among parents of children with disabilities – and the fact that Mike and I were still married — would grab the attention of literary agents and publishers.

But now, Kristina Chew’s August 12 autismvox blog about divorce rates is questioning a statement made about autism and divorce in a New York Times story (subscription only) . The article is about a man whose teenager has autism.

The article states: “Adam, a son from his first marriage, had autism, accompanied by its common side effect, divorced parents.”

Chew notes the National Autism Association (NAA) cited an 80% divorce rate among parents of children with autism. “I have also seen a figure of 85% regarding the divorce rate among parents of autistic children,” Chew writes. “I am not sure about sources for these numbers.”

This all got me wondering.

Are Mike and I not as unique as I thought?

Was my cover letter a lie?

Has anyone ever really studied what the divorce rate is among parents with children who have a disability?

Has anyone studied the divorce rate among parents who have a child with autism?

After a bit of digging, I found a report from the National Center on Accessibility called “Becoming a Resilient Family: Child Disability and the Family System.”

The report says that despite the general impression that parents who have a child with a disability are more likely to get divorced, “there has been limited research in this area and it is inconclusive.”

It’s all interesting, really. No one has ever questioned me about the high divorce rate among parents of children with disabilities. Everyone knows families experience challenges as a result of the disability, but maybe we need to give our kids – and ourselves – more credit. Let’s talk about the closeness a family can feel as a result of the shared experience.


 

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  1. andrew clark Says:

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
    OUR SON IS 7 YEARS OLD. HE HAS BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH
    PDD(PERVASIVE DEVELOPEMENTAL DISORDER) WHICH IS ON THE
    AUTISM SPECTRUM. WE FIRST FOUND OUT THAT WE COULD APPLY
    FOR DISABILITY FOR HIM IN APRIL 2007. WE APPLIED AND WE
    WERE DENIED. WE APPLIED AGAIN AND WE WERE AGAIN DENIED.
    HE HAS BEEN TO SEVERAL DOCTORS AND ALL SAY HE HAS A
    LEGITIMATE DISABILITY. WE HIRED AN ATTORNEY TO FIGHT ON
    HIS BEHALF WE HAVE SINCE WON HIS CASE IN COURT. HOWEVER
    WHEN MY WIFE WENT TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE TO TAKE
    NECESSARY DOCUMENTS TO COMPLETE THIS PROCESS WE WERE
    AGAIN DENIED EVEN THOUGH WE HAD A COURT ORDER STATING
    HE WOULD START RECIEVNG BENEFITS AND MEDICAID. ITS NOT JUST ABOUT THE MONEY. SS TOLD US WE WOULD NEED TO MAKE SOME CHANGES-GET RID OF VEHICLES AND EVENTUALLY GET A DIVORCE.
    MY WIFE AND I WILL BE HAPPILY MARRIED 9 YEARS ON JUNE 9 2010. WE DON’T WANT TO DIVORCE UNLESS IT IS ABSOLUTELY
    NECESSARY. WE NEED HELP. E-MAIL
    ME AT [email address removed by blog editor to protect commenter’s privacy]. THIS IS PUTTING A STRAIN
    ON US BOTH MENTALLY AS WELL AS PHISICALLY.
    THANK YOU,
    [Name and address removed by blog editor to protect commenter’s privacy]


  2. jane Says:

    I have twin 20 year old girls that are highly functioning autistics. My husband always worked overtime instead of helping with them. He just left this past January saying he doesn’t fit in to our family. All the hopes he had for our kids aren’t happening and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. My complaint is he really didn’t take time to teach them anything and left everything to me. If we get divorced does he have to help support them after the age of 21?


  3. Rhonda Says:

    You bet I believe the divorce rate is higher. I have been married over 15 years and may divorce. I get no credit for being a stay at home mom for four kids one being autistic. I home schhol her because mainstreaming did not work and the school refused to let her go to a school out of the district. I work as an RN almost every weekend and miss quality time with my family. My spouse claims it is not enough. I have no support from either side of the family so I am always taking care of my daughter with hardly any breaks. This is more stressful than people will ever know.


  4. Fielding J. Hurst Says:

    Still no studies on this? That somewhat blows my mind. I’ve seen stats that X% of couples who lived together before marriage get divorced, X% of couple who disagree on faith get divorced, X% of couples who fight about money, have sex Y times a week, etc. yada, yada, yada. It would seem that someone could answer this question if for no other reason that I would like to know. 🙂

    Nice discussion on this topic at Web Goddess, Lis Jo’s Aabout Autism blog … http://autism.about.com/b/2008/10/13/does-autism-in-the-family-lead-to-divorce.htm

    FJH


  5. Beth Finke Says:

    Amen!


  6. Judy Sorge Says:

    I also have a child with a disability and have divorced. I agree with everything Anne Lind said. It is horrible how you must be desitute to be able to get your child the right care. I am a single mom and a full-time college student and still barely qualify for ANYTHING! My ex-husband hasn’t seen Colin in years and doesn’t contribute to his care other than his court ordered $150 a month! We all need to get together and pressure our government to do more to help those that really deserve the help. Our kids have alot to offer this world and should not be ignored!


  7. An Says:

    I’m also considering divorcing my husband of almost 8 yrs. I always taking our 4 yr. old son to all his therapies and going to all the school meetings and Dr’s appointment. His father is never there for us. I asked him to at least attend his IEP…..which he eventually does……after having a huge argument about it.
    (His idea of spending time w/our son is……watching TV.)

    It can definitely be stressful for the entire family…especially if you feel like you’re doing it all by yourself w/out the help of your spouse.


  8. Anne Linds Says:

    To add: I just bet that Terry and Andrew here would be so involved and friendly with these families if they weren’t getting paid for their efforts or trolling for more clients or wanting recognition. They make it all sound good, but I very much doubt if you offer your expertise or services for free. While all the people we have had contact with who provided services for our sons have been nice and friendly, including showing much concern, as soon as we couldn’t continue their services because of finances these people disappeared from our sons’ lives. Bitter? You bet. But only after years of dealing with all the falseness. Proven, year after year.


  9. Anne Linds Says:

    I totally believe the divorce rate is that high and will probably keep rising for two reasons. 1) The stress is incredible dealing with autism. 2)Financial.

    My husband and I are considering divorcing now just so our two autistic sons can receive uninterrupted services! We live on a see-saw of assistance. We receive government assistance until we become solvent (solvent to us means we can pay the co-pays and deductables just for normal medical and dental and maybe have enough for a visit to McD’s – no way can a family have any savings in reserve for an emergency), then they take it away until we’re broke again. The waiver waiting list numbers are astronomical because the rate of instance has grown and the waiver slots available have barely moved to accommodate the growth rate. So, we divorce after 20 years of marriage so our sons can receive services they are entitled to under their disabilities. Great system. NOT.

    The system is supposed to encourage and enable families to keep these special kids by giving them the support/services they need! Yeah, expanding support is critical. Blah, blah, blah. All the feel good yacking doesn’t do anything for obtaining and receiving services. If a family has to go into financial ruin getting their disabled child services, what good does hearing platitudes do?


  10. Andrew Houvouras Says:

    Just did a brief PubMed scan of “divorce” “autism” “childhood psycopathology” “divorce rates” and found nothing about rates and families with children in the spectrum. This may be one of those popular and enduring myths.

    Beautifully worded, Terry. The stress of the families with whom we work and with whom we’re friends is incredible. Expanding support is critical.


  11. Beth Finke Says:

    Terry,
    Thanks for your comment – wanted to let you know that another thing Kristina Chu’s autismvox post said was that “Back in June the
    National Autism Association
    (NAA) announced that it was launching the ‘first national program to combat divorce rates in the autism community.'”
    Stay tuned -!


  12. Terry Blackwell Says:

    Divorce rates and families of children with autism certainly is an aspect of the impact of ASD that should be examined more closely. Beth’s posting is excellent in that it offers the research based opinion that so much of the “statistics” around are really just hearsay.

    Hillary Clinton wrote a book about it taking a “village” to raise a child. I would note as does Beth Finke, that it takes a family to raise a child with ASD/Autism. The stressors on the family are greater than anyone can imagine. The fight to keep your son (or daughter) making progress, is a fight that requires the spiritual and mental energy of a system of support. Families, as a system of support are a good model, and one that we would do well to remember got us here. More research and funding supports at both the Foundation and Dederal levels, need to look at finding the key behavioral supports that can be developed for families of children with disabilities, so that we can make sure all children receive the individualized supports they desserve, at home with their families as members of their communities.


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