Higher levels of parenting stress have been found in parents of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to those with other disabilities (Estes et al., 2009). Previous studies have identified numerous child variables that are related to increased parenting stress; however, parental and contextual predictors have been examined less extensively. In addition, most studies of parenting stress have included small sample sizes and have utilized data collected at only one time point.
The purpose of this study was to examine how parental and contextual variables predict parenting stress after controlling for the effects of child factors that have a known impact. Specifically, after controlling for children’s autism severity, daily living skills, and behavior problems, we investigated whether parental education, socio-economic status (SES), parent coping skills, family functioning, and social support predicted parenting stress over a 2-year period immediately following diagnosis, in a systematic sample of young children with ASD.
Data were drawn from the Canadian Pathways in ASD study and included 205 children and their parents. Data were collected within 4 months of diagnosis (T1; mean child age = 39.4 months) and 24 months later (T2). Parents completed a family demographic survey; the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI-SF); the Ways of Coping Scales (WCS); a Family Relationships Questionnaire; a Social Support Survey; the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, 2nded. (VABS-II); and the Child Behavior Checklist 1.5-5 (CBCL). In addition, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (Lord et al., 2000) was administered and the autism severity score (Gotham, Pickles, & Lord, 2009) was used as one of the child variables. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted.
In the regression analysis, three child-level variables (i.e., autism severity on the ADOS, behavior problems on the CBCL, and daily living skills on the VAB-II) were entered in the first block, and accounted for 16% of the variance in parental stress at T1 (F=13.03, p<.001). Next, SES and parental education were entered, with no significant effect. Parent coping strategies from the WCS were entered in the next step and accounted for an additional 16.6 % of the variance (confrontive coping, ß=.18, p=.004 and positive reappraisal, ß= -.18, p=.009). Finally, social support and family functioning were entered together and accounted for an additional 23.3% of the variance at T1. At T2, parental coping strategies (escape avoidance, ß=.21, p=.004) and social support and family functioning accounted for an additional 7% and 5% of the variance, respectively, over and above the predictors at T1. The overall model explained 68% of the variance in parental stress at T2 (F =15.1, p<.001).
While numerous child variables impact parenting stress, parents’ coping skills and the social supports available to them both within and outside of their families also significantly affect their experiences of stress over time. Programs that aim to deliver family-centred services should endeavor to provide social supports and promote adaptive coping strategies in parents of children with ASD, in addition to providing early intervention.
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