How Developmental Disorders Impact Marriages: A Closer Look

It’s true that having a child with a developmental disorder (DD) is never easy; the accompanying uncertainty and stress of finding quality treatments, diagnoses and balance can take a toll on a couple’s marriage. However, the media’s portrayal of the impact of DDs on families and marriages often generalizes, painting a truly bleak and somewhat misleading picture -- one that makes divorce seem like it’s looming around the corner for every family.

While many people are quick to assume that divorce rates are higher for families under these circumstances, decades of studies have produced unclear findings on the matter. A 2004 meta-analysis of six studies found that parents of kids with a DD had an average of 5.97 percent more divorces than parents without a kid with a DD. On the other hand, a literature review of current studies explained that having a child with a DD has been shown to have small negative effects on a marriage, but that most marriages last and are reported to be of good quality. In fact, over 70 percent of these marriages do survive.These studies show that the marital quality of parents with children with DDs varies widely and that while we should not generalize, identifying trends that cause marital strain can illuminate ways to alleviate stress and improve the lives of couples, families and children alike. For example, research revealed that behavioral issues (such as those associated with ADHD and ASD) were “consistently shown to be the strongest predictor” of parenting stress and parents of children with more frequent and severe behavioral problems resulted in lower marital satisfaction. Research on families of children with autism also found parenting stress to be more strongly associated with the severity of behavior problems than intellectual disability status or other autism symptoms.

In terms of other stressors, one study theorized that “the uncertainty surrounding ASD diagnosis and often long diagnostic odyssey to reach a diagnosis of ASD” contributed to a worsened sense of well-being among parents of kids with ASD. By contrast, studies of parents of children with Down syndrome noted that “the certainty and early timing of diagnosis of Down syndrome, relatively low levels of parenting stress, positive views on caretaking, and overall positive psychological well-being experienced by parents of children with Down syndrome may help promote positive marital interactions.” Consequently, it appears that marital stress directly relates to specific diagnoses and issues of uncertainty and behavior, rather than affecting all marriages equally.

Since marital quality and a child’s well-being both have an effect on one another, this research is crucial. Just as the severity of a child’s disability or particular diagnosis can affect a marriage, environmental factors such as marriage quality have been found to strongly impact a child’s well-being and development. Research further predicts that the marital stress of parents of children with DDs experience could be ameliorated with the creation of a supportive network and family-focused interventions.

Uncertainty of diagnosis and feeling a lack of control, especially as it pertains to ASD and behavioral issues, seem to be prominent causes of familial and marital stress. To combat these factors, Trayt focuses on streamlining communication with doctors and giving parents the ability to track symptoms and see how treatments are working. In doing so, Trayt can improve diagnostics and efficacy of treatment while providing a platform for both parents to feel more in control of their child’s health. As such, Trayt hopes to revolutionize healthcare, reduce the stress that too often comes with a child’s DD diagnosis and give families and their children a better quality of life.

Malekeh Amini

AVA Health, 3150 Porter Drive, Palo Alto, CA, 94304, United States