Everyone knows that marriage is an institution that takes time, effort, and energy in order to make it work. When marriages include children, the process becomes even more difficult as the two people involved must not take care of another human being. Even more difficult is when one of those children has autism and the parents must care for them during the entirety of their lives. The challenges of raising a child through adolescence and into adulthood can put even more strain on relationship as compared to the prototypical family.
An alarming study that was performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center states that the parents of children who have autism are more likely to divorce than parents who have normally developing children. This study clearly paints a troubling picture for the long term success for families that are adapting to the challenges faced when raising a child who has autism.
The study tracked these couples over the course of many years. It was aimed at determining the success rates of these relationships as their children developed over time. The study shows that when the couple’s child is young, the chance for divorce does not increase any more than a couple whose child did not have autism. However, as the child continued to advance through adolescence and ultimately into adulthood, the probability that the marriage would remain successful became significantly lower.
Results from this study were compared with results from another study that measured the divorce rates for parents who had children with disabilities. The data from each study mirrored one another. Divorce rates remained the same for parents whose children had autism compared to parents whose children had a disability. Contrarily, those similarities stopped when the child of each couple reached the age of 8-years. Divorce rates among couples whose children did not have disabilities began to decrease at that age, whereas couples who were raising children who had autism continued to increase as the child grew older.
There are a few hypotheses that can explain why these numbers are increasing as the child becomes older and matures into an adult. The first reason is because unlike a normally maturing individual, a child who has autism continues to have a dependence on their mother and father. During most of our adolescent years, we began to seek out independence and demand our own space so that we could break away from our parents and experience the world for ourselves. Unlike the prototypical adolescent, a teenager who has autism still struggles with their personal identity and maintaining social relationships. It is difficult for them to build those bonds with other people and express themselves. Therefore, their reliance upon their parents may increase as they grow older because their parents become the only people that they know and trust.
Another reason for this disturbing statistic is the fact that parents of these individuals become increasingly drained and stressed by this process. The argument will not be made that these parents love one another or their child any less because that argument is a complete fallacy. However, most parents have become adapted to their child leaving the “nest” at a specific age and the child, now adult, becomes responsible for themselves. However, when a couple raises a child with autism, the reliance of the child on his or her parents grows as they grow older. Some couples aren’t equipped to handle those demands and it becomes too much for them. This aforementioned reason in conjunction with the difficulties of maintaining social relationships on behalf of the child are contributing to this statistic.
There are some solutions to that may remedy and lower this growing trend. One proposal is that parents attend special counseling sessions with professionals as their child grows older. These sessions will prepare parents for the demands that their growing child will demand of them at each stage of their life. Generally, preparation for a challenging event will ease the struggle that couple will face. Also, these counseling sessions will the couple to express themselves to one another openly, honestly, and calmly away from the environment where they are stressed. More often than not, all anyone ever needs is an opportunity to take a step back and realize that they love one another and they love their child and the best thing for the lasting survival of the family is to be there. Ultimately, I feel that there are ways to lower these rates, but it will take time and effort.
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