Autism, Divorce and Putting Children First

Recently, a study was conducted by Brian Freedman of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, dispelling the popular notion that the divorce rate among autism families was near 80%. The study found that despite high stress among families facing autism, 64 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder had two married biological or adoptive parents, while 65 percent of children who do not have an autism spectrum disorder had two parents.

The findings seemed to contradict previous theories about divorce and autism, offering little comfort to those within the autism community who have been impacted by divorce. For these families (including mine), their rate is 100%.

Divorce involving families of children with autism leaves millions of children in situations that will be detrimental and will certainly cause a child’s progress to be severely impacted.

So, what can be done?

The key is to focus on the big picture. A child’s best interest must be put first and personal battles have to be let go. Years after arguments and disputes are over, a child’s growth will be obstructed because of the now-forgotten fight. Putting a child and a relationship at the helm will keep ships sailing back into smooth waters following the rough seas.

A family’s goal after a divorce must be healing the child with autism. Anything and everything beyond that is secondary. Remember, these kids have impeccable memories and think in pictures. Mommy is mommy and daddy is daddy and the images and painful memories of a divorce will remain for many years to come.

I have personally chosen that I would rather be alone and respect my child’s relationship with his daddy then to ever try and substitute. A child does not directly cause the break up and should never have the door closed to both parents.

A marriage and family counselor of the courts once explained, “When you break up and see each other again, it’s like sitting on the curb in front of your house that has just burned down…you are so euphoric to be alive and in each other’s arms knowing that there’s still a chance.”

Many couples have tried reconciliation but cannot avoid breaking up again because a house needs to be rebuilt and if you don’t correct the things that caused it to burn down in the first place, it will burn down again. It is always wise to bring counseling in, but it is also important to remain cautious.
Counseling for parents of children with autism has to be extremely specific. Ideas like having a child get used to two different homes or regularly changing his or her routines may seem like textbook fixes for the parents and the courts, but can be disastrous for children with ASD. The many years of guidelines set down for children in the court systems are based solely upon neurotypical children and not children with autism.

Our children’s best interests must become our own if they are going to have a fighting chance. When a father’s interests are purely those of his son or daughter, he too will want to come back and fight alongside with you.

The factors that contribute to a divorce in couples facing autism do not necessarily include the diagnosis itself. It can be related to many other things, including the lack of resources and support in the schools and community, the sense of worthlessness at helping a child, the severity of the ASD (which increases without resources) and knowing that there’s more that can be done, but not knowing what that is.

If at all possible, dads need to return home. Their children need them more than ever. A child’s progress and potential cannot be fully realized unless both parents are tag-teaming TOGETHER in the battle. Single mothers most likely have sacrificed everything they have and a father coming home will be like the cavalry showing up in the 23rd hour.

If a spouse never returns, they will be missing out on the many miracles that occur on a daily basis involving children with autism.

Reconciliation may be a tall order, but children with autism need both their mommies and daddies and sometimes we must be willing to live for something greater than ourselves to ensure the best possible outcome.