International Meeting for Autism Research: Differences In Parenting Stress for Parents of Young Children with ASD Between Ages 2 and 4

Differences In Parenting Stress for Parents of Young Children with ASD Between Ages 2 and 4

Thursday, May 12, 2011: 11:00 AM
Elizabeth Ballroom D (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
10:30 AM
L. E. Herlihy1, T. Dumont-Mathieu2, M. Barton3 and D. A. Fein3, (1)Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, (2)University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, United States, (3)University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
Background: Previous research from the current project found that when children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were 18-24 months, lower yearly family income and higher levels of symptom severity were associated with increased parenting stress (Herlihy et al., 2010). No association emerged between adaptive skills level and parenting stress. Clarifying the relation between parenting stress and child factors at various ages could lead to a better understanding of the needs of this population of families.

Objectives: The aims of the current study were to (1) compare previous findings on parenting stress in parents of 18-24-month-olds with ASD to parenting stress in parents of 42- to 62-month-olds with ASD, and to (2) compare parenting stress levels longitudinally in a subsample who contributed data at both time points.

Methods: Comparison:  Participants were 84 parents of children presenting for follow-up evaluation at 42 to 62 months as part of the Early Detection study. The child’s ASD diagnosis was confirmed and parenting stress was measured with the Parenting Stress Index- Short Form (PSI-SF). Child symptom severity was measured with the CARS and adaptive skills were measured with the Vineland. Parents self-reported yearly income data on a demographic questionnaire. Longitudinal: Participants were a subset of 30 parents from the above sample who completed the PSI-SF at both Time 1 (18-24 months) and Time 2 (42-62 months).

Results: Comparison: In a sample of parents of 42- to 62-month-olds with ASD, the child’s score on the Vineland Social domain was negatively correlated with parenting stress level (r=-.246, p<.05). PSI score was not associated with CARS score or family yearly income at this age. Longitudinal: A paired samples t-test revealed a significant mean difference (t= -2.650, p<.05) between parents’ PSI-SF score at the two time points, with parents reporting higher levels of stress at Time 2. In this subsample, parents’ PSI-SF score was negatively correlated with the child’s Vineland Social domain score at Time 2 (r= -.435, p<.05). PSI score was not associated with Vineland Daily Living or Communication domains, or with CARS score.  

Conclusions: In this preliminary study of parents of 42- to 62-month-olds with ASD, parenting stress level was not associated with family yearly income as it had been in a sample of toddlers from the same project. Lower parenting stress in this sample was associated with better adaptive skills in the Social domain, which was not the case in a study of toddlers reported in a previous poster (Herlihy et al., 2010). In a subsample of parents who reported parenting stress at both time points, parenting stress level was significantly higher on average when the children were 42-62 months old and was negatively associated with the child’s current level of social skills. Results suggest that at the time of diagnosis family factors such as degree of child impairment and family resources are associated with high stress, while after two years, as children continued to exhibit significant impairments, the degree of social/emotional attachment displayed by the child is more important in influencing parental stress.

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