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Monday, June 18, 2012

From Autisable: Autism's Effect On Marriages

Hi everyone-
Here is a nice little post written on Autisable. What I wanted to highlight was the information in relation to statistics on divorce in families of children with special needs. The author's life journey may be a bit different from many of ours, but I'm sure we can all relate to many aspects of her story. Bottom line: just because you have a child with special needs does NOT make the chances of divorce that much higher. Something I was certainly glad to read.

Autism's Effect On Marriages

Saturday, 16 June 2012

When asked “which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?” I always choose the bad news first. I guess I always want to get the worst part over with and then start focusing on the positives. Which is why I’ll start this post with the negatives of marriage, namely the divorce rates. When searching the internet for statistics I found that the general divorce rate in the US is approximately 50%. While these are striking numbers, I’m sure they’re not far from the statistics in most western countries. For years, rumors of even higher divorce rates of parents of autistic children have circulated where numbers as high as 80% have been frequently mentioned. Not an encouraging thought and I could not help but wonder: is this really true?

Well, after a considerable amount of time spent online, it seems that the overall consensus is that these numbers are highly exaggerated. Contrary to the rumors, studies show that divorce rates among parents of disabled children are very close to those of parents of typically developing children. However, the risk still remains higher due to another reason; a prolonged risk.

Here is a nice part of an article from Journal Sentinel’s website that explains this well: “Both groups started out with high rates of divorce when children were young, likely because the day-to-day child-care duties exact a heavy toll on marriages. But once children without disabilities grow up, their parents get over the rough patch and start to enjoy their empty nest” [said Sigan Hartley, clinical psychologist at UW's Waisman Center, and a team leader for a research aimed to find out whether parents of children who have autism spectrum disorder split up more than parents of children without disabilities]. “If parents can really survive the first years of marriage when their children are young, their likelihood of divorce steadily declined until, in our sample, virtually no risk by the time a son or daughter was 30″, Hartley said. By contrast, parents dealing with autism continued to have a high divorce rate as their children entered adolescence and adulthood. It’s not clear why divorce rates remained high for parents of teenagers and adults with autism. But the group has some theories. ”For these parents, they don’t get the typical experience of the son or daughter gaining the same level of independence, there’s still a high demand for day-to-day responsibilities,” she said.

For me, despite the higher prolonged risk of divorce, it is still encouraging to hear that the fearsome numbers of 80% do not seem to be true. So now I’m going to turn the matter upside down. Despite the high divorce rates, the chances of parents of autistic children staying together is still substantial and that’s what I want to focus on. I want to do everything in my power to keep my own marriage strong. I have trouble seeing myself dealing with everything regarding the boys alone, without my husband in the picture. I would feel completely lost without him. I’m sure I could survive (don’t we always?), but everything would be twice as difficult. Not that the struggles are so overwhelming but rather the fact that you do not have someone to back you up, to take over and give you a minutes rest once in a while. That you do not have someone there at all times to provide you with support and encouragement when you are feeling down is a scary thought. And it makes me all the more appreciative of my husband.

In fact, the reason why I’m talking about all this is because today is our two year wedding anniversary. We’ve been together for almost 9 years and experienced loads of things during that time. Both our boys were born before we got married and there were many challenges on the way, the biggest one undoubtedly when Jon Agust, our older son, was born 6 weeks prematurely. 2 years later, Viktor became part of the family photo. We always stuck together and pulled through the hard times while enjoying the good times. And for some reason, I always thought that after getting married, things wouldn’t exactly change but that we were probably over the roughest part of our relationship. I wasn’t quite right. Things have been eventful to say the least, since we got married.

Two months after our wedding, we left our comfort zone and moved to Denmark to start our graduate studies. It was very exciting but also difficult and it took about a year for us to reach a level of comfort. Last summer we were in great spirits, truly looking forward to the coming winter. We thought things would only get better. And then, in September last year, came the blow. To our complete surprise, Jon Agust was diagnosed with autism. It was a tremendous shock and our immediate reaction was unwillingness to admit it to be true. We started to read up on the topic which, to our horror, only led to the realization that not only was Jon Agust autistic but almost certainly Viktor as well. We were devastated. Ever since, we’ve been dealing with this new reality, trying our best to accept what is. A dark period of low spirits followed this realization and while we’ve tried to support each other through it all, we’ve been dealing with things in our own separate ways. It has most certainly been the most difficult thing we’ve experienced, having our sons diagnosed with autism.

We are slowly emerging out of the haze. We’ve pulled through and tried our best to stay strong, if not for ourselves, then for each other. It hasn’t been easy but isn’t that exactly what marriage is all about; staying together through thick AND thin? I feel we’ve been experiencing the thin part of late. And still, we’ve managed to stay strong as a couple and be there for each other. As I am his, he is my rock. For that I will always be thankful. And my love for my husband is unwavering. Happy anniversary honey!

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