Many studies have demonstrated that parents of children with an ASD experience high levels of Parenting Stress and that high levels of Parenting Stress predict poor child and family outcomes. Coparenting theory and research indicates that the quality of the Coparenting Partnership is predictive of parenting stress; can be influenced through intervention; is associated with child and parent outcomes; and that this association may be stronger in families facing a high degree of parenting difficulty. However, little is known about the importance of the Coparenting Partnership in families where there is a child with an ASD.
This study aimed to explore the relationship between the Coparenting Partnership and Parenting Stress in biological cohabitating parenting couples with a young child with an ASD.
This study employed a mixed, sequential methodology to explore the relationship between the Coparenting Partnership and Parenting Stress in cohabitating biological mothers (N=79) and fathers (N=72) of children with an ASD. A subsequent qualitative study, using semi-structured interviews, explored the adaptation of the Coparenting Partnership to the parenting of a child with an ASD in mothers (N=11) and fathers (N=11) from the same cohort.
Parental perceptions of the quality of their Coparenting Partnership, Autism Specific Parenting Self-efficacy (ASPSE), Family Support, and Parenting Stress were assessed with validated scales such as the Parenting Alliance Measure and the Parenting Stress Index. Severity of ASD and socioeconomic data was also collected. Subjects were recruited through autism specific schools and other sources in the metropolitan centres of NSW, Australia. Quantitative data was analysed with SPSS & AMOS. Interviews were thematically analysed with the support of NVIVO software.
Parents relied more heavily on their parenting partner than any other source of support. The Coparenting Partnership demonstrated a stronger correlation with Parenting Stress than any other variable (Father: r = .512, p < .001, Mother: r = .357, p= .001) and a stronger relationship with Parenting Stress than previously demonstrated in normative samples. Other factors, such as family support & socioeconomic position demonstrated weak relationships with Parenting Stress. Structural Equation Modelling supported the existence of a causal pathway from ASPSE to Parenting Stress which is mediated by the quality of the Coparenting Partnership.
The emergence of the child’s ASD caused parents to alter roles and responsibilities in their parenting partnerships. Fathers and mothers often had different parenting experiences and often had different roles however, parents valued this difference and worked together to promote their coparenting competence. Parents spoke about the importance of a sense of shared parenting endeavour and described how their parenting self-efficacy relied on the quality of their Coparenting Partnership.
The quality of the Coparenting Partnership is an important predictor of Parenting Stress in families where there is a child with an ASD. Children with an ASD are likely to benefit from the development of practices that enhance and strengthen their parent's Coparenting Partnerships. Intervention may be particularly effective in the early stages of the family’s transition to the parenting of a child with an ASD.
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See more of: Prevalence, Risk factors & Intervention