Addressing Autism and Divorce: What To Do When Your Marriage Crumbles 2

Addressing Autism and Divorce: What To Do When Your Marriage Crumbles

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Why do people divorce when they have children with special needs? How do I divorce my spouse when we have an autistic child? How do I learn to parent an autistic child on my own? Dear friend, these were just some of the things I struggled with when I realized that my marriage was falling apart. This is my story, just one of many, when it comes to autism and divorce. 

Addressing Autism and Divorce: What To Do When Your Marriage Crumbles 3

Is the divorce rate higher for parents of autistic children?

I would be highly inclined to tell you, yes- it is.

Sweet B’s father and I were married for 12 years. As of 2016, we were legally separated and as of 2018, our divorce was finalized. At the time, neither one of us can really afford it, but we both know that our marriage is definitely over. I had moved on with my life and so had he. There were other factors leading to the meltdown of our marriage, but I would be lying if I said that B’s autism didn’t have anything to do with it.

Raising a child with autism is stressful, another post for another day, even when you do have a good support system in place.

But does parenting an autistic child really lead to divorce?

Parenting an autistic child is stressful, there's no getting around that. But does autism really contribute to higher divorce rates?

Autism and Divorce Rate

The statistics have fluctuated over the years, but some experts had predicted that the divorce rates among couples with a child with autism was 50%. I believe that the number has gone down, but it’s still rather high and I can’t say that I’m surprised.

Even with such a need for routine and consistency, maybe that’s why autism and divorce don’t always go hand in hand. For us, after we found out about her diagnosis, our marriage seemed to strengthen. We drew on each other for support, even when the stress levels were through the roof.

That was both a good thing and a bad thing.

I look back and I can say this, with confidence, that yes while your spouse or significant other should be a primary source of support; don’t let them be your only source of support. I should have sought out support groups or counseling during that time, but I didn’t. Hindsight being 20/20, that’s one thing that I wish I had done differently after we got the diagnosis for B.

In comparison to couples with children, but without autism, the divorce rate is higher among parents who have a child with autism. I believe that fully. Having a child with autism changes your life in ways that you could never imagine. I don’t say that to sound over dramatic, I say that because it’s true.

Addressing Autism and Divorce: What To Do When Your Marriage Crumbles 4

Autism and Divorce Custody

If at all possible, try to figure out a custody strategy before you go to court. While this doesn’t have to be a legally binding document (yet), having some sort of framework in place can go a long way. A standard custody agreement may suit your family just fine. 

You’ll also need to think about what’s going to be best for your child. If your child needs more routine and structure, you may need to consider a different schedule for custody and visitation. 

Autism and Divorce: Our Story

I believe that having a child with any type of special need or disability, changes you in ways that you never thought possible. You will grow as a person and you will start questioning everything in your life. It’s magical and painful, all at the same time. Even when you become a parent, your priorities shift and change because it’s not all about you. You have a responsibility for another human being, and that within itself is scary. I don’t say this to marginalize parents of non-special needs kids, merely speaking from personal experience.

Being a parent is tough, regardless of the circumstances, and it’s not always easy.

Sometimes I think though, that having B was both a blessing and a curse. Now, before you judge, please listen. I love my daughter with all of my being and there isn’t anything that I wouldn’t do for her to ensure her safety and well being. She’s my daughter and I will always love her.

But, she’s also been somewhat of a delicate issue between myself and her father, even though we both did want to have children; or in my case, have another child. However, I can recall him not quite connecting with her after she was born. Or, no matter how much I would plead to go see her, it wasn’t an every day thing. Yes, I understood that he worked all day and that he was tired, but that was his daughter in the NICU too. A part of me resented that and I think that bitterness, now that I’m finally talking about it, contributed to the downward spiral that ultimately lead to the end of our marriage.

In my Road to Motherhood entry, I did relate that we were married after B was born. Initially, we were going to get married before her due date but B had other plans. Sometimes I would question if we got married for the right reasons, but there’s really nothing that I can do about that now. Still, I’m the type of person that takes those vows seriously- and until death do us part, meant what it meant. I took my vows to heart and I honestly thought that nothing could break that. I’m also a bit of a traditionalist in believing ‘get married once, stay married’.

But, since I’m writing an entry about autism and divorce, I surprised myself. Who knew. Life happens, things change, and we move on.

I can’t put all of the blame on B’s autism because we did have our fair share of problems.

Our personalities are different, our parenting views are different, our childhoods were very different… there were a lot of differences between the two of us and looking back, I suppose we just couldn’t overcome them all. I didn’t want to admit to that at first, because in my view, I was a failure and I was giving up. So I stayed and I fought for our marriage. That was both a good thing and a bad thing, I suppose. A good thing because I was willing to fight, and a bad thing because I was the only one fighting at the time.

B’s autism didn’t profoundly affect our marriage until we were both unemployed. I was already a stay at home mom and he left his job due to stress. With both of us, there was no lack of care for B, but it was still mostly on me. I didn’t mind that too much, but I would also be remiss to say if I didn’t become resentful for the lack of support. We were her parents, after all, so I would have expected to have had more help.

Still, I bit my tongue and didn’t bring it up- another mistake on my part and another issue that we had from the get go with a lack of clear and constant communication.

The stress and strain of B’s autism continued to impact and affect our marriage in many ways, though neither one of us were ever quick to acknowledge it.

And, as I said, there were other factors that contributed. Ultimately, it wasn’t just one thing, but several things coming together that lead to the end of our marriage. And that also affected B somewhat, though we tried not to argue in front of her. Sometimes, it just couldn’t be helped. Those were some very ugly times in the last few weeks before he moved out. But once we got past that, I think we were both better off.

I would be lying though, if I didn’t admit to harboring some resentment and bitterness. I’m still angry and have thoughts of rage. But I also realize that B needs her father, even if I don’t. She benefits more from having him in her life, even if there are days that the very thought of him makes me want to bludgeon him with a mallet. That being said, the co-parenting thing has been touchy.

Our communication still sucks, but we’re trying for B’s sake. And so far, I think we’re doing pretty okay.

Addressing Autism and Divorce: What To Do When Your Marriage Crumbles 5

How to Help Your Autistic Child Through Divorce

While these tips could apply to any child, when it comes to autistic children; we know that structure and routine are of utmost importance.

So what else can you do?

  • If your child is able to understand, assure them that they are not at fault. 
  • From the beginning, create a schedule or routine that can be implemented at both homes
  • Inform your child about the upcoming changes as often as possible
  • Use a calendar to mark the days that your child will be with their father and with you

Tips for Recently Divorced Moms of Autistic Children

Establishing communication with your ex-spouse is so important. And yes, I realize, that this may be difficult at times. I struggled with it myself and there are still times that I wonder how I managed to make it through a conversation. 

But, establishing this open line of communication will go a long way when it comes to co-parenting and moving forward. Having both parents on the same page and following the same systems, routines, and strategies makes a world of difference.

Remind yourself, as often as needed, that this is for the sake of your child. And that just because you don’t need your spouse anymore, doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t need them. While my ex-husband may not be right for me; he is still right for our daughter.

So does parenting an autistic child really contribute to higher divorce rates? I think it depends on the couple involved, the strength of their marriage, and the support that they’re receiving.

Parenting an autistic child is stressful, there's no doubt about it. But does it really lead to higher divorce rates?
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Kori

Content Creator at Kori at Home
Kori is an autistic mom who also happens to have ADHD and Anxiety. She is currently located in Albany, NY where she is raising a neurodivergent family. Her older daughter is non-speaking autistic (and also has ADHD and Anxiety) and her youngest daughter is HSP/Gifted. As an empath, HSP, and highly intuitive individual, Kori brings her own life experiences as an autistic woman combined with her adventures in momming to bring you the day-to-day of her life at home. Kori provides life coaching services for neurodivergent women (and those who identify as women) as well as Oracle card reading, Tarot card readings, and energy healing.

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Leigh - Headspace Perspective
7 years ago

A beautifully honest post. I’m sorry to read about your difficulties. I can’t imagine the challenges having a child with autism must present, and it’s sad these challenges have had this impact on your marriage. Sadly, I think many marriages suffer under similar strain. No one can blame you for feeling angry and bitter, but try to be kind to yourself and make time for you. #weekendbloghop xx

Masshole Mommy
Masshole Mommy
7 years ago

Wow. So sorry that your marriage ended up crumbling like that. I can’t even imagine how stressful that has been for everyone involved.

Stephanie Bourne
7 years ago

I’m very sorry to hear of everything you’re going through.

Joanna Sormunen
7 years ago

I work in special education and sadly there are many ended marriages and a lot of moms are the only ones taking care of their children. I wish you all the best and may your life, and your children’s life, be blessed!

bri
bri
7 years ago

I am sorry to hear about the situation you are going through. Thank you for your honest and open post.

Maggie
7 years ago

What an honest and personal post. I’m sorry for the loss of your marriage. Good luck with everything.

Mrs. Mashed Up
7 years ago

Wow, thanks for the frank and open post. Marriage these days is hard, even if their aren’t any additional stresses on it. I can image this did exacerbate the issues the two of you were facing. It’s good sometimes to look back and see what lessons you can learn from what you’ve gone through. And writing about it is therapeutic. And sharing that writing, well that’s just paying it forward. I saw some things in there for me personally, that I need to consider. Thank you so much!

Misty Battle
Misty Battle
7 years ago

It is sad that the rate is that high. When my little angel was alive it was the breaking point in my marriage. It was too much for us so we divorced. I have no idea why or where we reached that point. It was like we drifted apart with the stress of caring for a disabled child. This is a eye opening post

Frugal Mama & The Sprout (Sara)
7 years ago

Thank you for being so open and honest with us, this is all very eye-opening. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I wish you all the best.

Jess Scull
Jess Scull
7 years ago

SO sorry to hear πŸ™ I hope things get better! xo

Lavende & Lemonade
7 years ago

That is a lot of weight for a marriage to support. Thanks for sharing your experience and growth

Eliz Frank
Eliz Frank
7 years ago

My heart goes out to you… divorce is never easy and can take a toll of our health. Do take some time to release by walking or doing yoga. Take the kids too, it could be a way to let things go… Sending hugs
Elizabeth

Ashley @ Love.Marriage.Baby
7 years ago

Wow. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been through a divorce and I know how hard it can be. It was difficult at first but trust me, things will definitely get better and will start to look up for you! πŸ™‚

desiree
desiree
7 years ago

hun you sound like your head attach and then you have lovve of thekids and that keep you busy and happy bestof luck hun

Sandra Watts
7 years ago

My son, aged 17, is also Autistic. I can be hard at times but quite joyous in others. They are so unique in every way so its hard to say I can relate but I certainly do feel where your coming from. I hope everything works out for you.

traci@tracesoffaith
7 years ago

Your post was honest and real. Very brave to share this. Marriage is hard enough without throwing extra difficulties on it. I was thankful to read you’re trying to be civil for B’s sake. Life can be hard! Thanks for sharing.

Tarynn Playle
7 years ago

Thank you for such an honest post. I love how matter of fact you are about the situation. It sucks, but we move on. I appreciate how you acknowledge that you should have sought support outside of the marriage. He probably should have too. It’s great to try to support each other, but too much stress and strain enters the mix when you are fully dependent on each other. I haven’t been in the same situation, but I know stressful times need to be taken care of-even if that means getting help from somewhere you’re not used to.Thank you for… Read more »

Rachael Boley
7 years ago

Two very difficult subjects and you’ve got them both at once. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but I’m do glad you’re writing about it. I’m glad you’re working on communicating and coparenting for your daughter. That’s God news for everyone. You’re in my thoughts and prayers! Stay strong and know youre not alone, on either side. ❀

Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
7 years ago

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that families fall apart from the horrible strain of autism. My husband and I differ on what we feel is best for our youngest child, who is autistic, and it’s very draining.

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