A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center has found that parents of grown children with autism have a higher rate of divorce.
Published in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, the study is the first of its kind to track the marital history of parents who have adult children with autism. Its findings contradict earlier assumptions that parents of autistic children face a bigger risk of divorce during the child’s younger years.
Researchers studied 391 couples that are parents of adolescent and adult children with autism, comparing their rate of divorce with a sample drawn from another large study, the National Survey of Midlife in the United States. They found that the divorce rate for both sets of parents were relatively the same until the child reaches the age of eight; at that time, the incidence of divorce for couples with autistic children remains high while it goes down for parents of children without disabilities.
The lead author of the report, UW-Madison assistant professor of human development and family studies Sigan Hartley, Ph.D., said that the study clearly showed a “prolonged vulnerability” for divorce in parents of autistic children, primarily because there is a “lifelong profile of challenging behaviors and symptoms associated with autism.”