Raising little Westies, and life as parent of a special needs son

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

When even mainstream entertainment talks about life so point-blank, it must be true mustn’t it? And not just “mainstream entertainment, but also one of the few parenting blogs on Autstralia’s leading news websites1.

This post has been building in me for a while, but having said that, it’s been hard to write and sat here as a draft for longer than anything I’ve written for a long time. Real, good, meaty statistics are sparse on the ground and certainly aren’t the “low hanging fruit” of the statistics world – which is why the whole issue causes me so much angst. I’m a fan of marriage, I’m a fan of life-long relationships, but by the same token if something is broken beyond repair… well, I’m a realist too. Marriage is hard, divorce is hard, but divorce is hardest on kids… and I’ll assume it’s pretty hard on spectrummy kids too.

I really love Parenthood.  It’s a shame that they drop in such a widely bounced around statistic which is as made up as so much of the rest of a show which in so many ways does fantastic things to give the wider community an insight into the world of Autsim. Even hearing that “80% of marriages where there is an autistic child end in divorce” is enough to make some people decide “oh well, it’s not just me so if it seems too hard – maybe that’s because it is too hard.”

If the statistic was true: then maybe such a thought would be reasonable and sensible. It would mean that the community is letting couples who have autistic children down, if the divorce rate was so much higher than that of the wider community.

However, it is a statistic that has been severely challenged. In May 2010, Science Daily reported on a study by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Unfortunately, the Australian Bureau of Statistics data does not bring information about disabled children to the fore-front. It does show however that in recent times more than half of divorces are granted to couples with no children under the age of 18. Their stats are also based on “what happened in the last 12 months” not “what has happened to this family”, which is what would be needed in trying to answer this question one way or the other. Although, it seems the challenges for parents with autistic children might continue when those children grow into adulthood.

The other point which should be considered is, the rate of children on the spectrum where one parent or the other (or both!)  is also on the spectrum. Australian divorce statistics for people on the spectrum aren’t all that easy to find… let alone, the divorce rate for people on the spectrum, who have children, who are on the spectrum.

In any rate, statistics are about populations and trends. As it is, anybody who pays them too much attention probably wouldn’t get married anyway – especially if you’ve been married at least once before – but people keep doing it. So take the same optimism that got you married in the first place and keep it alive! Talk with your partner about your concerns, and who knows – you just might manage to escape being one of the couples who regardless of children, disabled or otherwise, decides to call it all “too hard”.

1. A great piece, with a great educational, insightful video – just a shame it merrily repeated a commonly believed statistic without saying where the statistic comes from.


3 responses to “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

  1. imawestie February 5, 2011 at 3:22 am

    If you have better links for stats… go ahead and point me in a better direction.

  2. fiona2107 February 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I’m really pleased you clarified there about the statistics being almost impossible to find when there is one of the parents of spectrum kids ALSO on the spectrum. That adds a whole new dimension to the statistics.

    You made some great points….personally in my own marriage we had to make the decision to bugger the statistics and not give up too easily.

    It would have been easy to just blame it on the stats and not bother to work at it but we didn’t.

  3. DQ February 6, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Thank you, this is a really significant issue and I have even been asked by others who are parents of children on the spectrum how on earth do they avoid being one of the 80% because I seem to have such a solid relationship. Yes it is solid, very much so, but as you say, it takes work. Sometimes that is hard, challenging work, but we do it because we love one another, we respect one another. We lean towards one another when times get hard, because we both trust that we can be vulnerable together and still be OK in the bigger picture. Nicely written stuff, Westie 🙂

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