Adaptive Behavior Deficits in Children with Autism As Predictors of Parenting Stress

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
S. A. Fox1, K. V. Christodulu2 and M. L. Rinaldi3, (1)Clinical Psychology, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY, (2)Center for Autsim and Related Disabilities, Albany, NY, (3)University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY
Background: Previous research has suggested that parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience higher levels of stress than parents of typically developing children or children with other disabilities (Lecavalier, Leone, & Wiltz, 2006).  Numerous factors have been proposed as potential causes of elevated parenting stress levels in this population, including lack of social support, stigma associated with the disorder, and notably, characteristics of the child with ASD (Pisula, 2011). Children with autism often exhibit challenging behaviors and marked deficits in the social, communication, and adaptive behavior domains.  Literature on the exact contribution of child deficits to parenting stress is mixed; it has been argued that severe challenging behaviors are the largest contributors to parenting stress, but other studies have suggested that impaired daily living skills have the greatest impact (Estes, 2009).  Currently, there is a dearth of literature examining the relative ability of specific domains of adaptive behavior deficits in children with autism to predict parenting stress.

Objectives: This study aims to discover the domain of adaptive behavior that is most predictive of high stress levels in parents of children with ASD. These findings will be used to draw conclusions about which child behaviors are the most worthwhile targets for intervention. 

Methods: The preliminary sample is comprised of 23 families who participated in the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities’ Parent Education Program for Families of Children Newly Diagnosed with Autism. As part of their participation in the program, each family completed the Parenting Stress Index (PSI) and the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Second Edition (Vineland-II). Multiple linear regression analysis was used to develop a model for predicting parenting stress from the adaptive behavior domains of communication, socialization, and daily living skills, as well as the child’s maladaptive behavior index. The relative predictive ability of each behavior domain was assessed with an examination of the predictors’ contributions to the full model.

Results: An examination of the bivariate correlation matrix indicated extremely high correlations between the socialization domain and both the communication and daily living skills domains (.766 and .936, respectively).  In order to preemptively correct for multicollinearity, socialization was removed from the model.  The remaining three-predictor model accounted for 37% of the variance in parenting stress (p=.028).  The communication domain obtained the largest beta-weight, demonstrating that it made the greatest contribution to the regression equation (β=1.61, p=.007).

Conclusions: This is the first study examining the relative predictive ability of adaptive behavior domains for parenting stress in families of children with autism.  Data collection is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest that communication deficits are the strongest predictor of parenting stress.  When children are unable to effectively communicate their needs and wants to their parents, it is understandably a source of considerable stress for the family. Based on this link, interventions aimed at reducing parenting stress in this population should focus on increasing the child’s communication skills.