Parents of autistic children not more likely to break up

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© Heide Benser/Corbis

Though the oft-quoted statistic — that strain and stress contributes to an 80% divorce rate among parents of autistic children — has long had its critics, new research presented today at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia more definitively undermines that figure with findings based on families of more than 78,000 children. The results: autistic children are just as likely as those without an autism spectrum disorder to be in families where their parents are still married.

Brian Freedman, Clinical Director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute, worked with colleagues to determine whether the 80% figure — which Freedman says he often hears lamented by parents of autistic children — had any scientific basis. To do so, they analyzed data on nearly 78,000 children between the ages of 3 and 17 collected as part of the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health. They found that families of autistic children were almost exactly as likely to be intact as those of children without autism: 64% of children with an autism spectrum disorder were in families including both biological or adoptive parents, 65% of children without autism.

While previous research has shown that having an autistic child in the family can increase stress, Freedman is hopeful that this latest research will dispel the idea that families that include children with autism spectrum disorders are more likely to break up due to the strain. As he said in a statement released today:

“I would hope this research drives home the importance of providing support to these families, and letting them know that their relationships can survive these stressors… We should continue to provide training for parents so that they can work through the stressors in their relationship to keep their family together and have a successful marriage.”