Parents of children with autism report higher stress and lower perceived parenting competency relative to parents of children with other developmental disorders and those with typically developing children (Bromley et al., 2004; Rodrigue et al., 1990). Identifying specific family factors associated with elevated stress and depression in this sample may help us target families in greatest need of supportive intervention.
The purpose of this study was to examine the relation between specific demographic features and parental well-being in a unique sample of families: those with children 25 months or younger who show early autism symptoms.
Parental well-being and demographic characteristics were assessed in families of 55 toddlers (mean CA = 21.2 mo., range = 15.5 – 25.0 mo.) at an initial assessment of a multi-site clinical randomized trial of the Hanen More than Words intervention. Children had met a predetermined cutoff on the Screening Tool for Autism in Two-Year-Olds (STAT) and had a clinical presentation consistent with an ASD. Parental well-being was assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Inventory (CES-D), Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-Being, Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI), and Maternal Efficacy Scale (MES). Demographic information, collected via parental report, included household income, parental education, and parental age.
Higher ratings of depression were associated with lower income (r = -.33, p < .05; 10.8% of the variance). Decreased parenting efficacy was correlated with lower income (r = .29, p < .05) and lower parental age (r = .33, p < .05), but only parental age uniquely accounted for variance in efficacy ratings (i.e., 10.7%). Lower self-acceptance was associated with lower income (r = .37, p < .01; 14.0% of the variance). Higher ratings on the PSI Difficult Child subscale were correlated with lower income (r = -.34, p < .05; 11.2% of the variance). Higher ratings on the PSI Parent-Child Dysfunctional Interaction subscale were associated with lower income (r = -.30, p < .05; 8.9% of the variance). Higher ratings of total stress on the PSI were correlated with lower income (r = -.28, p < .05; 8.1% of the variance). Greater anxiety was associated with lower education levels (r = -.29, p < .05; 8.6% of the variance).
Results for this sample indicate that parents with fewer economic resources and less formal education are at increased risk for depression, lower perceived efficacy and self-acceptance, and greater parenting stress. Recent research has suggested that when parenting stress is high, interventions for children with autism, particularly those that are very time-intensive, are less effective (Osborne et al., 2007). These results suggest the importance of providing families at socioeconomic risk with specific parent-focused supports (e.g., parent training to enhance efficacy) in addition to child-focused interventions.