Objectives: To examine the association between marital status and stress among parents of children with autism and the mediating roles of social support, socio-economic status, and level of child impairment.
Methods: Data were collected as part of a behavioral intervention study in a large urban school district. The sample comprised 127 students in 39 kindergarten-through-second-grade autism support classrooms. Students were assessed through direct observation, parent and teacher report at the beginning and end of the school year. The current study relied on direct observation measures (Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale) and parent measures (Parenting Stress Index (PSI), Adaptive Behavior Assessment System-II, Social Support Questionnaire, and socio-demographics).
Results: Analyses are ongoing. 44% of the sample was married, 43% never married, and 13% divorced or separated. Households with married parents experience more stress in the Parent- Child Dysfunctional Interaction (P-CDI) subscale of the PSI than households with a single parent (p<.05). No statistically significant differences were found between the two groups in levels of stress in the Difficult Child and Parental Distress subscales of the PSI. There was no statistically significant association between marital status and social support. Of the sample 18% scored ≥85th percentile in all three subscales of the parenting stress index. Analysis of associations with types of social support, severity of diagnosis and functioning is ongoing.
Conclusions: Preliminary results are contrary to previous reports of the association between marital status and parental stress. Married families experience higher levels of stress in the P-CDI subscale of the PSI than single parents which suggest that single parents are more reinforced by the interactions that they experience with their children. Results from an analysis of social support, severity of diagnosis and functioning will be used to determine possible explanations for the differences in level of parent interactions based on marital status.