Keeping a marriage strong while raising children with autism is no easy task. Researcher Bolman estimated in 2006 that as many as 80 percent of married couples with autistic children ended up divorcing. Some of the stressors that might weigh on your marriage when raising an autistic child include feelings of guilt, loss and anger; the imbalance of time and care spent on that child; the difficulty of accessing needed services; and the lack of an outside support system.
Coping With Loss
Married partners begin to experience stress around the time that their child exhibits symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including a lack of eye contact or a refusal to reach out to parents for affection, says autism advocate Chantal Sicile-Kira, author of “A Full Life with Autism." Some parents may find that a child regresses after 18 to 24 months, and may mourn the loss of the child they knew before. Most parents have expectations for their children that will be damaged by the diagnosis of autism, and they may have to cope with feelings of grief that leave them distant from each other, adds Sicile-Kira.
Raising Multiple Children
Raising autistic children requires a significant amount of time and energy, which means that non-ASD siblings of the autistic child may react negatively to the imbalance of parental attention, notes the Autism Society. Parents may find that they become concerned about spending more time with other siblings to “make up for” the time spent with the autistic child, and therefore neglect their marriage because so much energy is spent parenting. Siblings may complain of jealousy, or take on their parents’ grief and stress.
One of the most challenging issues for parents raising an autistic child is finding and securing services for that child. The financial stress of added health care and educational needs can often create friction in a marriage. Often, Sicile-Kira says, one parent will adopt the role of “autism expert” while the other parent works harder to earn more money or opts out. This division of responsibility can create stress when parents disagree about the value of their separate contributions. The constant advocacy for autistic children at school is best shouldered by the couple rather than only one parent.
Building a Support System
Many parents raising autistic children fear social situations, including family holidays or having friends over, lest other people do not understand their children's special needs. Taking an autistic child out into public can be stressful when others stare or make negative comments. It will never be easy, but married couples should work to include their autistic children in family gatherings and time spent with friends, so that people become more familiar with ASD and so that parents don't feel isolated. It’s also a good idea to develop a support network of other people you trust to take care of your child, so that you and your partner can take some necessary couple time.