Today, I welcome Dr. Tracy Lyons Spencer to share her experience of the challenges of married couples parenting a child on the Autistic Spectrum.
There are horror stories suggesting that the divorce rate in ASD families is as high as 80%. Don’t you believe it. Scientific studies do not support that theory.
You will need some background to understand my family’s experience. My husband is Aspie. I am borderline. My son from my first marriage is borderline. My son with my current husband is Aspie. We all live in the same house without the introduction of crime scene tape. Sometimes I don’t know how we do it. For the record, I did not know Jim was Aspie when we met and married. Heck, I didn’t know what Aspie was until Trey was diagnosed with it. The more I learned about Asperger’s, the more I saw in Jim. I saw a few signs in myself as well.
Now, back to the discussion of marriage.
Raising children with ASD comes with financial and emotional challenges that can strain a marriage. If one or both spouses are social butterflies, enjoying date nights and time with friends, they’re going to notice a marked dip in ye olde social life. Most ASD families find themselves more isolated than neurotypical families. It’s hard to put a child with ASD in crowded situations due to all the sensory bombardment. It’s hard to get adult time when a typical sitter cannot handle a meltdown. What to do?
I am fortunate that my husband’s Asperger’s means he is just as happy with Netflix and Chill as he would be watching a movie in the theater. (Unless it’s a Captain America movie; that requires the big screen.) We don’t get many date nights, averaging two or three a year. What we do get are lunch dates while Trey is in school. Lunch is usually cheaper too!
Ah, money. Many fights among neurotypical couples are about money. ASD families are no different. We just have different expenses. Our pharmacy loves us. Specialists in comorbid epilepsy and sleep apnea think we are great. The people in Trey’s psychiatrist’s office recognize my voice on the phone. Added stress? Of course. Just trying to get to all those appointments is added stress, let alone paying for them. It takes a team to handle all the scheduling, driving, refill ordering, and pharmacy waiting that consume a calendar. If one partner isn’t very helpful, that would be an issue.
What do ASD parents argue about? Again, I think it is similar to neurotypical families. No two people would raise their children exactly alike. One is usually softer than the other. We have the same disagreements there. What makes our arguments a bit different are the facts that Jim is an Aspie, so he goes at it from his life experience and how his brain works, and I have a fancy degree that specialized in ASD, so I am citing research. Jim is also an attorney. Ever argue with someone who is TRAINED to argue? It’s not pleasant. Add to that the common “my way or the highway” thinking of an Aspie, and I am not going to win many arguments. Luckily, Jim recognizes this and gives me a win every so often. I know that it is hard for him to do, so I appreciate his efforts.
And now for the down and dirty; let’s discuss sex. Yes, I am going there. Like parents of small children, most amorous activity has to wait until the kids are asleep. Energy is gone. People are tired. Parents of neurotypical children have the blessing of their kids going on sleepovers and playdates and out with friends. Our period of “wait until bedtime” is much longer. At 14, Trey is almost always with us. He has figured out what a closed door means, but only after picking our bedroom lock a few times to see what all that noise was about. (We don’t always wait until bedtime, darn it. We love each other.) Additionally, a meltdown can be, as Jim calls it, “the greatest little horny killer in the world.” I can’t speak for all ASD parents, but we do more than just manage a sex life. If people knew, they would think we are still in our twenties. Sex is a GREAT stress reliever. I highly recommend it.
So how do we keep going? What makes our marriage flourish? Sacrifice. Understanding. Teamwork. It may seem small to others, but I appreciate that Jim doesn’t expect me to always pick Trey up when he has a meltdown at school; he can do it too. I like that I can ask a grown Aspie what might be going through Trey’s head right now. I love that he can respect my need to have a say, even when we don’t agree. We aren’t a family from a Norman Rockwell painting, but who really is?
Dr. Tracy Spencer