Moms and dads of kids with autism spend less time together than couples with typically-developing children, new research suggests, but that doesn’t mean they don’t support one another.

In a study looking at the day-to-day experiences of parents of kids on the spectrum, researchers found that such couples spend an average of 21 fewer minutes per day together.

“Those 21 minutes add up over weeks and months to almost 128 fewer hours spent together over a year,” said Sigan Hartley of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lead author of the study published this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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Hartley and her colleagues asked 174 couples with children who have autism and 179 with typically-developing kids to keep individual daily diaries for two weeks. Each participant was told to record how much time they spent with their partner, how supported or close they felt to that person and to note any positive or negative interactions.

Despite spending less time with their significant others, parents of those with autism said they felt supported by their partners and these moms and dads were no more likely to report negative interactions.

However, parents of kids on the spectrum did document fewer occasions when they shared a joke, had a meaningful conversation, were intimate or had other positive interactions with their partner.

Understanding how having a child with autism impacts parent relationships is significant to helping families affected by the developmental disorder, Hartley said.

“Just like any child, a child with ASD affects, and is affected by, the entire family,” Hartley said. “Developing therapies or strategies that help parents thrive and keep their relationships strong is critical for the long-term success of children.”

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