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Ariane Zurcher

Ariane Zurcher

Posted: December 22, 2010 05:26 PM

Marriage and Autism (Part I)

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The divorce rate of parents with an autistic child is said to be over 80%. If there's any validity to this statistic my guess is, in addition to the stress and financial strain, the legal hoops one must jump through to get ones child basic services with the Board of Education, the Board of Public Transportation, insurance companies, the lawyers, the hearings, the paper work and the sheer bureaucracy of advocating for your child must be a factor. It is the workload equivalent to running a small business if not more. When you add the fact many autistic children have disruptive sleep patterns and eating habits causing further complications to a family already struggling to cope, you have a situation that will test the strength of any marriage, no matter how solid.

My husband, Richard and I have certainly had to weather our disagreements, though fortunately around the big issues: methodologies, treatments, our vision and hopes for our daughter, Emma - we agree. I know of a few instances in which one person in the marriage simply couldn't cope any more and their child's diagnosis pushed them over the edge and out of the marriage. I remember early on after we had received Emma's diagnosis I looked at Richard and said, "How
are we going to get through this?"

Richard replied, "Together."

And for us in many ways it's that simple. (Though I need to be reminded of this from time to time.) We don't do it alone. When I am having a moment, usually in the middle of the night, perseverating on some worry about something I have little control over or which simply hasn't happened yet - will Emma ever live independently or who will take care of her when we die or will she ever be able to read and write or will she need tens of thousands of dollars worth of dental work because she still sucks her thumb at night, (these are a few examples from my current playlist) or any number of concerns ricocheting around in my head like a pinball, Richard will reassure me, "It's going to be okay, we'll get through this." There are times when I feel as though I am trying to claw my way out from a dark abyss filled with fear. Richard and I have a kind of short hand for this.

"You're spinning out," he'll say after listening to me for a while.

"I know," I will reply and I do know, though the knowledge doesn't help me stop myself.

And then he talks me down or if that fails, because I can be stubborn, he will listen a while longer before finally interrupting me with, "Okay, my turn. You're totally out of control." His is the blunt, direct approach. It can be quite productive. He will then go on to point out why my thinking is deranged. 90% of the time I can listen and calm down. Richard has his own version of spinning out, but it's usually work-related. Which isn't to say he doesn't worry about Emma or Nic, he does, it's just he is better at having some perspective on them and doesn't get as easily thrown into the "doomsday pit" of despair.

Every now and again, however, Richard falls victim to worry, thankfully these are times when I am usually feeling upbeat, so I am able to talk him off the ledge. Of course a sense of humor helps too. Richard, being Irish, has a wickedly, dark sense of humor. We will laugh at things no one else would likely find funny, which makes us find them that much more hilarious. The absurdity of it all is something we share. And I suppose that's the point. Finding the common ground, trying to overlook our grievances and reveling in the things we enjoy and can share with one another.

I remember a few years after my father died I was sitting in the kitchen with my mother.

"Do you miss him?" I asked her.

"Every day," she said. "I even miss the things about him that use to annoy me."

 

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