It’s no surprise that studies show that parents with special needs children face a great deal of stress. Parenting autistic children can be even more difficult because of the range of challenging behaviors, poor sleeping and eating habits, communication problems and dealing with the social stigma. Interestingly, some studies report that parents of children with autism experience more stress than parents of children with Down Syndrome. Understandably this tension affects the whole family’s health and financial well-being as well as their relationships with each other and with others.

Years ago, there were reports of a supposed 80 percent divorce rate among parents of children with autism. The truth is that different studies have found a range of divorce rates.  One very large study of parents with autistic children found that while these family faced additional stress, it didn’t necessarily result in a family breaking up more often than in other families. The study found that depending on the family, the stress either drove the family apart, or made them stronger.

Whether parents stay together or decide to divorce, various coping strategies can help. Among the most important are having a network of supporters and not being afraid to ask for assistance from others. Marriage and family counseling can also help. For those who do decide to divorce, it’s important to not make matters worse with a contentious divorce. Prolonged litigation will only add to the existing strain on the family as well as deplete financial resources. The best approach is for parents to work together to resolve their disputes and figure out how to move forward as two separate households who both care about the well-being of their children.

Collaborative divorce enables parties to have more control over the divorce process and work out a solution themselves. Each party has an attorney and receives assistance from an interdisciplinary team of mental health professionals and financial neutrals. The mental health professionals are licensed health care individuals who identify impediments to the process and/or raise certain emotional concerns that need to be addressed. This is especially important where there are special needs children involved. The financial neutral assists the parties in analyzing current spending and saving practices and prepare future budgets for the two new households that will need to be supported. Caring for a special need child can be financially draining not only because of the cost of extra services but because a parent may need to cut back on work hours or otherwise limit his/her earning potential.

For parents with autistic or any special needs child, the stress doesn’t end when the child becomes an adult. As a result, there is a continuing need to address problems. A collaborative divorce process allows spouses to find a way to deal with present and future issues in a respectful and cooperative way.

For more information on coping with parental stress, read:

Stress and The Autism Parent

Under a Looking Glass: What’s the Truth about Autism and Marriage?

If you are considering divorce, contact me for a consultation to discuss the best approach for your family.