International Meeting for Autism Research: Parent Stress Related to Infants at-Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Parent Stress Related to Infants at-Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
2:00 PM
G. W. Gengoux , Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, Stanford School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA
A. M. Steiner , Child Study Center, Yale University, New Haven, CT
K. Chawarska , Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT
Background: The literature documents higher levels of stress in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to parents of typically developing children and children with other developmental disabilities, with stress levels strongly related to child behavior (e.g., Davis & Carter, 2008). Though it is well-established that siblings of children with ASD are at increased risk for developing ASD themselves, very little is known about the parenting experience of raising an infant at high risk for ASD (HR-ASD). Specifically, research has not yet documented levels of parent stress in this unique parent population, nor has it examined how stress pertaining to an older child with ASD may affect parent impressions of their HR-ASD infant.

Objectives: The current study explores parent reports of levels of stress and concern regarding their HR-ASD infant, and the relationship between these concerns, HR-ASD infant behavior, and reported stress related to the older sibling diagnosed with ASD.

Methods: Participants included 53 parents of HR-ASD and Low Risk (LR; no genetic risk for ASD) infants. At 12, 15, and 18 months of age, all parents completed the Parenting Stress Index (PSI) and the Parental Concerns Sheet (PCS), a likert-scale questionnaire which probed level of parental concern regarding child development and parental observation of developmental delay. Parents of HR-ASD infants also completed a PSI in regards to their older child with ASD.
Results: Preliminary results revealed that parents of HR-ASD infants did not report overall higher overall levels of parenting stress regarding their infant than parents of LR infants. However, emerging trends suggest that some parents of HR-ASD infants were more likely to evidence defensive responding on the PSI, indicating a tendency to underreport stress related to their HR-ASD infant. Furthermore, despite limited reports of stress related to specific child behaviors on the PSI, when asked about general developmental concerns (PCS), parents of HR-ASD infants reported more frequent and severe concerns (p = .03; p < .000, respectively) than LR parents. In addition, among HR-ASD parents, 69% of parents who did not observe any specific developmental challenges with their child, nonetheless reported significant levels of parental concern (p = .01). 

Conclusions: Results indicate that parents of HR-ASD infants do not generally report significant levels of stress related to specific child behaviors, but evidence significant levels of concern related solely to their child’s risk-status. Higher levels of defensive responding among HR-ASD infants indicate that it may be difficult for parents to report stress relating to their infant’s behavior. Results will be discussed in terms of implications for parent-child interaction, parent support, and early intervention.

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