In our world there are statistics all around us. No where is that more true than in the world of autism.
There is the whole one in 88 kids are diagnosed on the autism spectrum, which is the big ugly, awful stat but there are loads of little stats, particularly if you start investigating treatment options, dietary options, and so forth.
The one that hit me the most when my daughter was diagnosed with autism was this one: 80 percent of marriages where there is a child with autism end in divorce.
Roughly speaking, that means that divorce is twice as likely in a household where there is at least one autistic child.
My child already had autism, so while I find the numbers on the condition alarming, the marriage one threw me for a loop.
I can see why, because autism has a tendency to be all consuming and if you are not careful autism can take up so much room in your life that there isn’t room for anything else. Even the most compatible of couples can drift apart during child rearing if not given the right attention. You need to make time for your marriage, which is hard when you have kids around all the time, needing feeding, diaper changes, schlepping to sports, or dance practice.
Special needs parents have to also factor in the added time it takes to deal with special needs. It may seem like forever when it is happening, but typical children grow up and become increasingly independent and depending on the kid, you go from doing everything for them, to looking out for them. For a parent dealing with a special needs situation, this trajectory is much, much slower, and for some it doesn’t happen at all.
My daughter is 9 and although she can dress herself, on school days or other days when there is any kind of time pressure, I have to do it, as she cannot cope with the pressure and her method of getting dressed is put on undershirt, run around for 10 minutes, put on sock, look for a toy, put on shirt inside out, etc. I still wash and brush her hair for her because she can’t manage that yet. It took us a year to get her to brush her teeth by herself. That was 365 evenings of showing her, supervising her, encouraging her, standing by her until finally it is (sort of) an automatic process.
Let’s face it, autism is more than a full time job, it’s an involuntary life calling. The shuffling between therapies, the IEP’s, the school choices, the new therapies, the new eating regimes, the sensory issues, the meltdowns, the monitoring anything and everything around her, the research, the worrying, the constant second guessing yourself, leave little room for anything else, much less date nights.
My husband and I love each other, but sometimes, while trying to balance two jobs, a household, and a special needs child, it’s often about just-trying-to-get-through-
You know the one.
Why would I want to put on a bra and go out to some restaurant on a Saturday night?
My husband and I have very different parenting styles and it took us a long time (and we got a lot of advice from people specialized in autism) about how we could learn how to be on the same page without either of us completely giving up our own personal style. It took a while but we did finally find a formula which works for us and seems to work for our daughter most of the time.
We divide and conquer, my husband makes breakfast and lunch for my daughter and I focus on her getting dressed and packing the backpack. My husband does the lion’s share of the errands and pays the bills. I do most of the cooking, all of the laundry, and do all the internet research and come up with ideas regarding therapy/educational choices. We talk all of those things over but we long ago gave up the idea that either one of us can do it all. So we piece it all together as best we can, we make choices about what we can and cannot do, and we don’t spend much time lamenting what we can’t manage to pull off.
When one of us is frustrated or having a not-so-great day with our daughter, we step in and rescue each other and give the other some alone time to decompress and just be. My husband takes my daughter to his parents’ house every Saturday afternoon for lunch and around 3 he brings her home and I take over so he can either go and hibernate in his man cave or go out to the Apple Store to play around so that we each get a little down time.
My husband knows how to make a rough day go away just by bringing me a cup of coffee or a diet coke at the right moment or he’ll bring back a John Hughes movie or something else I like from the video store and I try to do the same for him as much as I can by letting him check out when he needs to.
That’s not to say it’s always easy, sure, we have our bad days too and days where it just doesn’t work, but most of the time we end the day liking one another, I think, because we’ve both learned to appreciate what the other brings to the mix and to not take it all so seriously. We laugh a little, even when things are at their worst, especially when they’re at their worst.
Autism does take up a big space in our lives but somehow we’ve also not let it take over our lives. Whether that’s because we found some magic formula or because we’re just lucky, I don’t know. I don’t question it. We’ve managed to make a go of it for 11 years and not only are we still going strong, we still like each other, we like the look of one another, enjoy spending time together, and still make each other laugh every day, often at our crummy parenting.