Predictors of Child and Parent-Domain Stress Profiles in Parents of Children with Autism

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
T. M. Belkin1, J. H. McGrew2 and L. A. Ruble3, (1)Clinical Psychology, Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis, Carmel, IN, (2)Clinical Psychology, Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, (3)University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY

Parent caregivers of children with autism report greater levels of stress compared to parents of children with other developmental disabilities and parents of typically developing children (e.g., Baker-Ericzén et al., 2005; Yamada et al., 2007; Hayes & Watson, 2013).  The transactional model of stress posits that stress is subjective and arises when demands placed on an individual exceed his or her resources to cope (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).  Consistent with this model, several “demand” and “resource” variables (e.g., challenging behaviors, child characteristics, and a lack of support) have been consistently associated with increased stress in caregivers of children with autism (Lecavalier & Wiltz, 2006; Mori et al., 2009; Pisula, 2011).


The current study expanded upon a previous investigation of parent stress within a sample of parents of children with autism by using a modified stress and coping framework (The Double ABCX model; McCubbin & Patterson, 1983a).  We aimed to determine whether resource and demand antecedent variables would be associated with parent stress. Moreover, we examined stress separately within the Child Domain (i.e., Distractibility/Hyperactivity, Adaptability, Reinforces Parent, Demandingness, Mood, and Acceptability) and the Parent Domain (i.e., Competence, Isolation, Attachment, Health, Role Restriction, Depression, and Spouse/Parenting Partner Relationship) of the Parenting Stress Index: Fourth Edition (PSI-4; Abidin, 1985).   


As part of a prior randomized controlled trial study investigating the COMPASS intervention (Ruble et al., 2012), seventy-nine parents of children with autism were administered questionnaires and measures including the PSI-4 (Abidin, 1985).


Bivariate analyses indicated that parent-reported stress when measured within the child domain was significantly associated with eight variables: parental race, total services received, taking part in the COMPASS intervention, language, IQ, problem behaviors, adaptive behavior, and number of children in the home (all p values < .05).  Parent stress when measured within the parent domain was significantly associated with six variables: mother’s degree of education, parental race, income, total services received, parent-teacher alliance, and problem behaviors (all p values < .05).   Parental race, total services received, and problem behaviors were significantly associated with increased reports of stress for both child- and parent-domain measures.

Multivariately, child-domain parental stress was related to problem behaviors (β = .50) and participating in the COMPASS intervention (β = -.32), accounting for 46% of the variance and parent-domain parental stress was related to behavioral symptoms (β = .45), mother’s education level (β = -.38), and total number of services received (β = .24), accounting for 45% of the variance.


By organizing our study variables using a modified Double ABCX model, we were able to model factors associated with parent stress for caregivers of children with autism.  Our findings are largely consistent with previous research and with theory that increased demands (e.g., challenging behaviors) lead to increased stress, and increased resources (e.g., mother’s educational level or income) are stress protective (Estes et al., 2013; Lecavalier & Wiltz, 2006).  Future research should examine specific moderators of stress to help understand and facilitate resilience within caregivers of individuals with autism (Hayes & Watson, 2013). 

See more of: Services
See more of: Services