High Autism Divorce Rates Is A Myth: Autism Families

Over the years I have read many reports autism divorce rates are high in autism families.  In fact, the media and celebrities have reported a whopping 80% autism divorce rate. For a parent with a newly diagnosed child, this kind of information can influence a person to think they are at a higher risk for divorce.

Looking at available research, a different picture is portrayed for autism divorce rates. While I am not a clinician, I did my best to gather the information to present the best accurate picture.

In 2010, a study published by Hartley el al. showed parents of a child (children) with a  diagnosis of ASD had a higher rate of divorce than the comparison group (23.5% vs. 13.8%). The autism divorce rates remained high throughout the son’s or daughter’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood for parents of children with an ASD, whereas it decreased following the son’s or daughter’s childhood (after about age 8 years) in the comparison group. Someone reading this conclusion could be misled and assume autism divorce rates are higher than couples with typically developing children. However, the national average for divorce rates is 40-50%. This research study still shows autism divorce rates are less than the national average.

In 2012 Freedman and collegues completed a study on children 2-17 years, of which 913 reported an ASD diagnosis. The study revealed no evidence to suggest that children with ASD are at an increased risk for living in a household not comprised of their two biological or adoptive parents compared to children without ASD in the United States. The survey estimated 64% of children with autism live in two parent households.

That is, there was no evidence to suggest  parents with ASD children are at an increased risk to separate or divorce. That is, autism divorce rates are not higher than the national average.

These finding are important. We don’t want parents to feel if they have a child with autism they are most likely headed for divorce. However, the results do not minimize the added stress autism families face on a daily basis. Having a child with autism can have added pressures on a marriage with increased battles at school, financial pressures, therapies, dealing with behaviours, making couple time, taking individual time to destress amongst more.  I can say for myself, my marriage is stronger and our love greater by  having a child with autism.  Equally, it is  has not been an easy road. Couples will have their own unique experiences and circumstances and make choices accordingly.

As a society we should help one another and be understanding not judgemental. Publishing false statistics without having done proper research is detrimental and can affect people negatively.  Supporting parents with ASD children by creating support groups, networks, 1-800 help numbers, respite programs amongst others are essential to providing necessary supports.

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2 thoughts on “High Autism Divorce Rates Is A Myth: Autism Families

  • October 25, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Respectfully, I disagree with your conclusions. The national divorce rate includes those without children, as well as those who are divorced multiple times. It is simply a skewed and inaccurate comparison group. That is why a proper study uses a matched-sample comparison group, as did Hartley et al. A more accurate conclusion is that there is a higher divorce rate among those families who have at least one child on the spectrum than among similarly situated families who have children who are not on the spectrum. This does not mean, however, that the divorce rate is higher than the national average, and as you point out it is the opposite. It does not mean that if you have a child on the spectrum you are likely headed for divorce. But it DOES indicate that the additional stresses put on a marriage can potentially have an adverse effect (it can also have a positive effect), and that potentially warrants extra care and feeding of the marital relationship.

    • October 26, 2016 at 4:08 am

      I agree with what you are saying, this is why I included the Hartley et al study. I also concluded the blog saying we need to have more supports in place and everyone’s experience is different. The main point from a parents perspective is that if you have a child with autism it does not mean you are headed for divorce.
      Many people are quoting an 80% divorce rate which is false. That was the main purpose of the blog. Thanks for the comment. I am sure it will be helpful to those reading the blog. Check back for more updates and blogs on autism. Hope you are able to use some of our free aba resources or recommend them to your clients.

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