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Families with autistic children do not divorce at a higher rate

Posted May 19 2010 2:10pm

Autism and divorce. There is a “statistic” that gets repeated that 80% of families with an autistic child end in divorce. Turns out, this isn’t true. Kev here at LeftBrainRightBrain has already discussed the recent press release on this.

As a blogger here, I have the opportunity to write long responses and post them separately. When I read that the study is going to be presented at IMFAR later this week, I looked up the abstract.

B. H. Freedman , Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD
L. Kalb , Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD
B. Zablotsky , Mental Health, Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
E. Stuart , Mental Health, Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Background: A large body of research suggests that raising a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a uniquely stressful experience for parents (Fisman et al., 1989; Konstantareas & Homatidis, 1989). The demanding nature of parenting a child with ASD can be particularly deleterious to the parents’ relationship, causing a significant decrease in marital satisfaction (Bristol et al., 1988). However, it is presently unclear if having a child with an ASD increases the risk for separation among biological parents. While speculation abounds in the mainstream media about increases in separation and divorce for this population, very little empirical and no epidemiological research has addressed either this claim or the unique factors that may contribute to separation of these parents.

Objectives:

1. Examine the association between having a child with a current ASD diagnosis and the relationship status of their parents.

2. Identify factors that contribute to a greater likelihood of a child with ASD living with two biological or adoptive parents.

Methods: Data used for this study were taken from the 2007 National Survey for Child Health (Blumberg et al., 2009). Using children ages 3 to 17 years, our final sample size was 77,911. Survey weights allow the results to generalize to the noninstitutionalized US population of children. The outcome variable of family structure was dichotomized as being either traditional (two parent household, either biological or adoptive) or non-traditional (a two parent household with step-parents, a single mother or father, other relatives, or other family types). A four-stage sequence of survey weighted logistic regression models were developed to examine the association between having a child with a current ASD diagnosis and living in a traditional family, while controlling for potential confounders. Model 1 controlled for basic demographic confounders; Model 2 added maternal characteristics; Model 3 included additional socioeconomic indicators; and Model 4 included co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses in the child (Externalizing, Internalizing, and ADHD).

Results: No association between a child having a current ASD diagnosis and their family structure was identified in the first three logistic models (OR range .98 – 1.06, all p>.05). However, this association reached marginal significance when concurrent psychiatric diagnoses were included (OR 1.66, 95% CI (1.03-2.67), p=.04).

Conclusions: Results from the analysis found no consistent evidence of an association between a child having an ASD diagnosis and that child living in a traditional versus nontraditional family. Once we control for co-occurring psychiatric disorders, our results show that a child with an ASD is slightly more likely than those without ASD to live in a traditional household. This somewhat counter-intuitive result is likely due to particularly low probabilities of living in traditional households for children with those other disorders, regardless of whether or not they have ASD. In fact, exploratory analyses suggest that having ADHD, Externalizing, and Internalizing disorders are more strongly related to the probability of not living in a traditional household than is ASD. Findings from this study hold important implications to both research and intervention for families of children with ASDs.

Repeated for emphasis: “Once we control for co-occurring psychiatric disorders, our results show that a child with an ASD is slightly more likely than those without ASD to live in a traditional household”

Not only is the “80%” figure wrong, but families with an ASD child are more likely to be in a “traditional” household.

The fact that parenting an autistic child does not lead to more divorce is not all that surprising to me. As the abstract notes, they used the National Children’s Health Survey data in the study. You may recall that this study was a hot topic for a while last year, with various groups and bloggers claiming it as evidence for an autism epidemic (note, it isn’t evidence of an epidemic at all. Actually the contrary). Amid that flury of attention, we here at LeftBrainRightBrain looked at other information in the Survey, including family structure, in Interesting information in the National Children’s Health Survey

At that time I presented the results of the question “Are the kids living in a household where the parents are married?”

69.4% of families who identified their child as autistic
74.0% of all families who responded.

D’oC also discussed Autism And Divorce in a post following a survey released by Easter Seals and the Autism Society of America which showed lower divorce rates amongst families with autistic children.

Does this mean that parenting autistic children (or parenting at all for that matter) isn’t difficult? No. Does it mean that supports are in place for autistic children and their families? No.

But, we must keep one final question in mindDoes misinformation help anyone? No.

If you want to reference this post in your site, use the code below to link to me from your website.

<a href="http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2010/05/families-with-autistic-children-do-not-divorce-at-a-higher-rate/">Families with autistic children do not divorce at a higher rate</a>

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