Parents of children with developmental disabilities experience varying levels of stress, but new research suggests that some key factors influence how much their kids’ needs affect their marriage.

The study looked at the experiences of 213 couples living in the U.S. and Canada who were surveyed, about half of whom had a child with autism while the other half had a child with Down syndrome.

Among parents of those with autism, nearly a quarter of mothers and 20% of fathers said their marriages were distressed. By contrast, in the families of children with Down syndrome, just 10% of mothers and 2% of fathers said the same.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“There could be many reasons for these percentage differences,” said Tina Taylor of Brigham Young University, a co-author of the study published recently in the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. “These data point to not only a ‘Down syndrome advantage’ but a possible ‘husband advantage.’ One possible explanation is that husbands may not be as directly involved with daily caregiving responsibilities. Because parents’ experiences are interconnected, this warrants further investigation.”

No matter which disability a child had, however, researchers found that parents who had consistent respite care and what they called uplifts — positive experiences that offset day-to-day stress — were better off.

“A lot of power comes when parents choose to perceive their situations in a favorable light. When parents of these children look at the good things that happen — like gaining caring and compassionate attributes — the difficulties become more manageable and stress is mitigated,” Taylor said.

Parents of children with Down syndrome who were surveyed reported more uplifts, the study found, and in turn also had less stress and greater marital quality.

“We need to find ways to help parents perceive their situation as rewarding and experience uplifts. That’s where interventions can come into play,” said Jamie Easler who worked on the study as a graduate student at Brigham Young University.

Specifically, the researchers said that interventions tailored to the differences between developmental disabilities might help address the divergent levels of stress that parents in these groups experience.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.