Naseef and Freedman (2012) addressed this issue with sensitivity and clarity in the Autism Advocate. They describe the urban legend that the divorce rate among parents of children with autism is 80%, a statistic earnestly quoted by many talk show hosts and celebrities in the United States. Naseef and Freedman point out that having a child with autism can increase parents’ stress relative to parents of typically developing children, and can strain parents’ relationship with each other. This can be a product of changing expectations regarding the care and development of the child with autism, the child’s difficult-to-manage behavior, juggling often hectic therapy schedules, financial challenges, and battling with schools and insurance companies to obtain appropriate care. In the face of these challenges, and a national divorce rate of 40% to 50%, it’s no wonder that people assume a much higher rate of divorce among parents of children with autism.
Carefully conducted research does not bear out this statistic, however. As early as1951, Kanner remarked on the low incidence of divorce among the families of children with autism he had seen. Freedman and colleagues (2012) used data from a national survey to estimate that 64% of children with autism reside in two-parent households, a percentage no different from that of typically developing children. Because of the way the survey questions were asked, however, they were not able to ascertain the exact divorce rate. Hartley and colleagues (2010) found, in a smaller convenience sample, that 23.5% of parents of children with autism divorced, compared with 13.8% of typically developing children, with the difference between the two groups appearing among parents of children older than 10 years, but not before. Still, the divorce rate among parents of children with autism in this sample was substantially lower than the national average.