January 11, 2008

Parents of Down syndrome children divorce less: study

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(photo by Dana Johnson)

Parents of Down syndrome children divorce less: study

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center researchers are reporting slightly lower divorce rates for families raising a child with Down syndrome than in the comparison groups, following an examination of the Tennessee Department of Health's birth, hospital discharge, and divorce database records from 1990-2002.

The population-based study published in the American Journal on Mental Retardation by VKC investigators Richard Urbano, Ph.D., and Robert Hodapp, Ph.D., showed divorce rates were lower (7.6 percent) for families of children with Down syndrome as compared to 10.8 percent in the population group with non-disabled children and 11.25 percent for families of children with other congenital birth defects.

Lower divorce rates in the Down syndrome group may be due in part to what the researchers call the “Down syndrome advantage,” which refers to the personality and behavior of most children with the syndrome and the fact that parents of children with Down syndrome are often older, more educated, and married before having children.

“When divorce did occur in the Down syndrome group, however, a higher proportion occurred within the first two years after the child's birth,” said Urbano, who serves as VKC's director of Evaluation and coordinator of Research Databases.

“Mothers and fathers of children with Down syndrome were more likely to divorce if they were younger, had not graduated from high school and if they were less educated and lived in a rural area.”

Researchers compared 647 families who have children with Down syndrome, 10,283 families with children with other developmental disabilities, and 361,154 families with children who did not have any disabilities.

Urbano said the findings would be helpful in counseling parents of newborns with Down syndrome about the risks for marital discord during the first few years after a child's birth, and also in developing special programs for families in rural areas.