Love & Marriage

80% of all marriages where the couple have an autistic child end in divorce…or so the story goes. The truth is somewhat different.

A study conducted in 2010 at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute, Baltimore, found that 64% of autistic children were being parented by a couple compared with 65% of non autistic children. Published in the medical literature in 2012, the Freedman study states:

A total of 77,911 parent interviews were completed on children aged 3-17 years, of which 913 reported an ASD diagnosis. After controlling for relevant covariates, results from multivariate analyses revealed no evidence to suggest that children with ASD are at an increased risk for living in a household not comprised of their two biological or adoptive parents compared to children without ASD in the United States.

And still and still and still the 80% myth persists. Not only does autism suck happiness from its “victim” but couples and families are collateral damage. Take <a href="//” target=”_blank”>this overwrought piece from 2013, a year after the Freedman study appeared in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

…one in 88 kids are diagnosed on the autism spectrum, which is the big ugly, awful stat but there are loads of little stats, particularly if you start investigating treatment options, dietary options, and so forth.

The one that hit me the most when my daughter was diagnosed with autism was this one: 80 percent of marriages where there is a child with autism end in divorce.

So, the author, Ms Meijler, investigated ways to change her daughter but skipped checking the validity of that ubiquitous 80% stat. Good work. Sigh.

One has to wonder: is this, other articles like it and the perpetuation of the 80% myth pre-emptive self defense? Marriages breakdown. They do. Happy Valentine’s day people. With the 80% stat no one is to blame but autism. No one, that is, except the autistic child.

Usually, when a marriage or partnership breaks down, both parties are at pains to protect the children. Not if one of them has autism. Then the partnership had the odds against it. “Google it,” is the defense of the uninformed, the anti vaccination/pro disease person who doesn’t know where to find the studies that back up their fanciful claims because they haven’t realised yet that they do not exist. However, I suggest you Google “how to talk to children about divorce/break up.” You’ll find do’s and don’ts. You’ll find scripts. You will, actually, find useful tools to guide you through and structure what could be the hardest conversation you may ever have. None of these will tell you to blame your children. None will tell you to take to the blogosphere to tell the world how your child’s neurology destroyed your marriage. Why? Because that would be a cruel lie.

Marriage is a set of promises made between two people (yay that those two people need not have differing gender identity in many places!). Two people. Marriage is not the family. The Pwd is part of my family but not a part of my marriage. If one or both of you in a marriage feel that what it means to be married is beyond you, then, that is your failing. Yeah, I’m harsh. You two made promises the day you got dressed up that you’d work through the unexpected, the difficult, the poorer, the sickness and the worst. Your marriage is for each other. Your child is autistic or has another disability. The promises you made that day did not come with qualifiers.



  1. It’s all part of the blame game continuum, Autismum.

    I look back on my 47 year marriage and I believe that having a developmentally disabled child actually strengthened the bonds between the dear hubby and me.

    Hugs to you, the DH and Pwd. 🙂

  2. When I look back on the hard years of all-day every-day behavioural modification we did on our autistic son I wonder how we managed. Frankly, the credit has to go to my tireless and indefatigable wife who was stubborn enough that she kept us all at it until our violent turd-throwing son became the remarkable young adult we now enjoy. Having survived that we feel we can cope with anything. I suspect that if the relationship is sound such an experience can only make it stronger. Sadly, though, it is true that it might be too much of a strain for a weak relationship, and then the poor parent who has custody gets not only financial hardship but also all the strain of trying to raise his/her (usually her) child. As always, the child suffers as a result. I can’t muster much sympathy for the partner who leaves in that situation, having said, in effect, this is too much for me so you can do it all, and do it on your own. We can all think of several pithy epithets for such selfish people.

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