Objectives: To analyze the literature examining psychological variables affecting the parents of children with autism with regard to the participants involved.
Methods: An exhaustive literature search was conducted to identify quantitative research studies that included measures of stress, coping, depression, anxiety, and/or social support as the primary variables of analysis. Inclusion criteria included publication in an English language peer-reviewed journal and participants who were the parents of children with autism, either exclusively or as a distinct group. Studies were categorized according to (1) the aforementioned psychological variable(s); and (2) the study participants who were involved.
Results: Out of 15 studies that investigated social support, 6 (40%) examined parents as a homogenous group (i.e., genders were not analyzed separately), 4 (27%) compared mothers to fathers, 5 (33%) examined mothers only, and none examined fathers only. Out of 21 studies investigating coping, 7 (33%) examined parents and mothers compared to fathers, 6 (29%) examined mothers only, and 1 (5%) examined fathers only. Out of 16 studies investigating depression, 2 (13%) examined parents, 9 (56%) compared mothers to fathers, 5 (31%) examined mothers only, and none examined fathers exclusively. Out of 8 studies investigating anxiety, 1 examined mothers only and the remaining 7 compared mothers to fathers. Finally, out of 36 studies investigating stress, 5 (14%) examined parents as a homogenous group, 17 (47%) compared mothers to fathers, 13 (36%) examined mothers only, and 1(3%) examined fathers only. Across all psychological variables, only one study dating back almost 20 years studied fathers’ experiences exclusively (Rodrigue, Morgan, & Geffken, 1992).
Conclusions: There continues to be a dearth of research on fathers’ experiences of parenting a child with autism. However, fathers have distinct psychological profiles from mothers (e.g., Ornstein Davis & Carter, 2008). Furthermore, fathers make distinct and direct contributions to both the spousal and parenting relationships (Hastings, 2003); thus, increased paternal participation in studies on parenting is both necessary and valuable. From an empirical perspective, studying fathers could provide important information about the unique experiences of this group and how they differ from (or are similar to) mothers. From a clinical perspective, research information on the “forgotten man” could be used to develop interventions that will support and assist fathers to be better parents and partners.
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