Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are known to have higher levels of parenting-related stress than parents of children with other developmental delays. Within this group of parents, a small number of studies have produced conflicting evidence for the relationship between socio-demographic factors such as parental socioeconomic status (SES) and levels of parenting stress. Clarifying the relationship between these factors and parenting-related stress could lead to a better understanding of the needs of this population of parents and therefore enhance our ability to meet those needs as professionals.
The aim of the current study was to examine the extent to which socio-demographic factors such as yearly income are associated with parenting-related stress levels in parents of toddlers diagnosed with ASD.
Participants were 62 parents of children receiving an initial diagnosis of ASD between ages 18-24 months. Parenting-related stress was measured by the Parenting Stress Index- Short Form (PSI-SF), which produces a Total Stress score and three subscale scores: Parental Distress (PD), Parent-Child Dysfunctional Interaction (P-CDI), and Difficult Child (DC). A Total Score of greater than 90 indicates clinically significant distress. Respondents to the PSI-SF included both mothers (N= 56, 90.3%) and fathers (N= 6, 9.7%). Parents self-reported yearly income data (a proxy for SES) along with other socio-demographic information such as race/ethnicity, educational attainment, and employment status. Yearly income ranged from <$10,000 to >$100,000 and was coded in $10,000 increments. Children were diagnosed with ASD for the first time as part of our larger Early Detection of Pervasive Developmental Disorders study. Child symptom severity was measured using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and adaptive behavior with the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales communication and socialization domain scores.
Child symptom severity as measured by the CARS was not correlated with total parenting stress as indicated by the PSI-SF total score. Similarly, child adaptive communication and social skills as measured by the Vineland were not correlated with total parenting stress. Preliminary results indicate a negative correlation between PSI-SF total score and yearly income (r= -0.23, p= .038) for parents of toddlers with an ASD. When examining the subscales of the PSI-SF separately, yearly income was negatively correlated with the PD subscale (r= -.403, p=.002), but was not significantly correlated with the P-CDI or DC subscales.
In this preliminary study of parents of newly-diagnosed toddlers with ASD, parenting stress levels were not correlated with child symptom severity. Overall parenting-related stress tended to decrease with increasing yearly income in our sample. This effect appears to be driven by a significant negative correlation between Parental Distress subscale scores and yearly income. The PD subscale is thought to measure distress a parent experiences in his or her role as a parent as a function of personal factors related to parenting, such as sense of parenting competence and lack of social support. These preliminary results suggest that parents in lower yearly income brackets may be particularly susceptible to experiencing stress in the parenting role with very young children with ASD.