Marriage can be a roller coaster ride. This is to be expected when two people are trying to build a life together. So what happens when autism enters the mix? Although autism impacts each child and marriage in a different way, there are some common issues that autism families face. They can include financial challenges, child care, special education, lack of support, parenting a child with challenging behaviors, work-life balance, and planning for the future. Each of these issues can bring stresses to any marriage but they can be more intense when parenting a child on the autism spectrum.
I have often heard the rumored statistic that 80% of marriages of couples raising a child with autism ends in divorce. In 2010, two studies came out that debunked this statistic. One of them was a study conducted by Hartley et al. that was published in the Journal of Family Psychology. This study stated that parents of children on the autism spectrum had a 23.5% rate of getting divorced compared to 13.8% of parents of children who did not have a disability.
The Kennedy Kreiger Institute also debunks this statistic in their study, which found that “64% of children with autism lived with married or adoptive parents compared to a rate of 65% for children with no autism diagnosis.” My husband and I are not in the 23.5% of couples getting divorced because of autism. In fact, divorce is not even on our radar. Our son, Angel, is in the 64% of children with autism living with married parents.
One thing that we don’t hear often is that autism can bring couples closer together. No one else understands Angel the way my husband and I do. I truly believe that we have gained greater purpose as a couple since Angel was diagnosed.
I admit that autism came into our lives when we were already experiencing some marital challenges. We were on an emotional roller coaster but we rode it out. When our son was diagnosed with autism, my initial coping mechanism was to have a good cry and then start researching ways we could help him progress. I knew that I could not be in denial anymore. I knew that our son needed more help than he was getting.
My husband had his own way of coping. I strongly believe that he was in denial about Angel’s diagnosis and what it meant for our family in the long run. Sometimes he would ask me questions that would make me give him the side eye. It was hard for me to understand why he did not get it. I know that was not fair, but I am being honest.
Soon, I had to realize that we each have areas of parenting that come naturally to us. I am the writer, the researcher, the advocate, and yes the hands-on mom. He is the disciplinarian, the teacher, the fun one, and yes the hands-on dad. Because we have assumed these roles, I realize that we still have to reach across and provide support to each other not just as parents but as husband and wife.
As parents we both know that no matter what else is going on, we have to be there for our son. His diagnosis has not changed his love and need for us. His diagnosis has not changed our love for each other. Looking back, we could’ve been more supportive of each other. Counseling really helped us get over that hump. We had no choice. Our son needed us.
As husband and wife, we know that we need to do more things as a couple. We need to work hard to make that happen and to make our marriage last. While planning for our son’s future, the realization hit that we are in this for the long haul. It also hit us that he could be in our home for a life time. This means we have to think outside the box to keep our marriage going. Continuing to build our family on a foundation of love is a good start.
Are you a married couple raising a child with autism? How has autism impacted your marriage? Please share. I look forward to hearing from you.
(This post first appeared on Black and Married With Kids.)