Awareness on ASD Among Young Parents

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
R. Hock1, B. McKeever2, R. McKeever2 and Z. Yu3, (1)University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, (2)Public Relations Sequence, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, (3)University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Background: Recent estimates show that one in 88 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research has established that interventions such as Applied Behavior Analysis, when delivered in the early years of a child's life, can lead to dramatic improvements in communication, achievement and adaptive behavior skills. However, family access to these interventions is dependent on the early identification and diagnosis of ASD. Parents play a central role in identifying signs and symptoms of ASD in their young children. Their knowledge of ASD signs and symptoms may contribute to their ability to identify developmental concerns and seek professional help. For this reason, organizations such as the CDC and Autism Speaks have launched campaigns to increase ASD awareness among parents. Despite these large-scale efforts, the authors were unable to find empirical research about ASD awareness among parents of young children. It is important to understand the factors that contribute to ASD awareness among young parents in order to guide future education and public communication efforts.

Objectives: The objective of this study is to explore the factors that contribute to ASD awareness among parents of young children in the general public. In particular, we will examine parent characteristics such as age, length of parenthood, race, education status, and personal involvement with the issue of ASD.

Methods: An online survey was distributed through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to parents (N=497) who have a child 2-years or younger (who do not have a child with ASD). ASD awareness was measured using an 18-item instrument comprised of ASD symptoms and other challenging child behaviors. Participants indicated whether each item was a symptom of ASD. Involvement, defined as the degree of personal connection or attachment to the issue, was measured using three Likert-type items (α=.767). Multiple regression was used to address the study aims.

Results: Regression results indicate that the model significantly predicts ASD awareness among parents of young children, R2=.085, F(5, 496)=9.266, p<.001. Higher levels of education among parents (β=.092, p=.038) and ASD Involvement (β=.226, p<.001) were associated with increased ASD awareness, while being Asian (β=-.211, p<.001) was associated with lower ASD awareness. Length of parenthood, and membership in other racial groups were not significantly associated with ASD awareness.

Conclusions: Findings from this national cross-sectional study suggest that parent demographic characteristics and personal involvement with ASD contribute to their awareness of ASD signs and symptoms. These findings are an important first step in identifying differential awareness levels and information needs among young parents and may be used to guide public communication efforts. In particular, awareness appears to be lower among Asian parents and parents with lower levels of education. Implications for future research, practice, and policy will be discussed.

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