The diagnosis of autism in a child has been described by some as "the marriage killer." There have been reports that suggest most marriages in families with children with autism end in divorce. There was also a recent report that suggested such marriages lasting greater than 17 years are especially stable marriages. The authors surmised that if a marriage could survive as long as this in a family with a child diagnosed with ASD that it could survive just about anything.
That autism places a strain on marriages there can be no doubt. The child's inability to engage in a way that gives social reinforcement to those caring for him displaces some of the usual joy of caring for a baby and young child in the early stages of a marriage. As a child grows older, the odd behaviors and tantrums strain the relationship further. There is always so much to do, and there always seems to be something that a parent should be doing with a child with autism to keep him as engaged as possible to fight the "slipping away."
There is never enough time. There isn't enough time for the therapies, the doctor's appointments, the school meetings, the extra childcare, the other children, and on and on. There is never enough money for the therapies, the doctor's appointments, the missed time from work and the other children.
Of course, nothing stresses a marriage like lack of time and money. There isn't enough time for just the two of you to be alone. There isn't enough time to talk about anything other than what always seems to be the next big decision about therapy, childcare or school. There is never enough money - and in most families, one spouse takes on the responsibility of trying to make as much money as possible to help with the financial burden while the other parent takes on all of the case management and day-to-day care. One feels like the other doesn't completely appreciate what the other is sacrificing and giving and vice versa. Does it sound like I have "been there done that"?
In such an environment, it can be easy to begin to slip away due to the endless work and stress. Especially for the parent who is working outside the home - such as Adam - work, friends and even affairs can become a way of "escaping."
I know in my own marriage there was a time when I just didn't want to come home at the end of the day. I would find excuses to stay at the office longer or attend an evening meeting. Time at home was so stressful, and every single day I seemed to be greeted with yet another disappointment and yet another incident of poor behavior that always seemed to be blamed on poor parenting. I can tell you that the avoidance was not a positive for the marriage.
To help work through these kinds of problems we all must seek help to talk through the struggles, the guilt and the sheer logistics of caring for a family that includes a child diagnosed with ASD. And it is important to know that there is help. When there are communication issues and struggles with emotions - whether anger, envy, guilt or hopelessness - you should find help. This can be in the form of counseling, peer support or even psychiatric assistance. But find someone to help yourself, your marriage and ultimately your child diagnosed with ASD.
Written by Roy Sanders, M.D.