Predictors of Somatic Problems in Parents of Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism
Parenting a child with autism is a situation of chronic stress for some parents. The negative effects of chronic stress on mental health of this group of parents is well established, however, little is known how chronic stress affects the somatic health in parents. The few studies that have looked at this issue have reported that parents experience high levels of health problems.
Studies have begun to identify pattern of individual and environmental differences that might make parents more susceptible to the negative psychological effects of chronic stress. However, factors that might put parents at increased risk for developing somatic problems are currently unknown.
It has been suggested that factors of intolerance of uncertainty, avoidant emotion regulation styles, lower mindfulness and social support increase the risk for both the mental and somatic health consequences of stressors because they can prolong stress-related affective and physiological activation, both in advance and following stressors. An additional factor that might be associated with somatic health problems in parents of children with autism is the presence of broader autism phenotype traits.
To identify factors associated with somatic problems in parents of individuals with autism.
Fifty one parents of adolescents and young adults with autism (Mage= 50.19 years, SDage= 5.78; 47 females) completed questionnaires assessing somatic health (COMPASS-31), anxiety (Cross-D), depression (PHQ-9), autistic traits (AQ), emotion regulation (ERQ), mindfulness (MAAS), social support (SSQ-6), and intolerance of uncertainty (IOU-12). This study forms part of the Australian Autism CRC longitudinal study of school leavers; recruitment is ongoing.
Variables significantly associated with the CASS-31 total score were entered into the hierarchical regression model (CROSS-D, r= .46, p= .001; PHQ-9, r= .47, p=.001; MAAS, r= -.54, p<.001; SSQ-6, r= -.55, p<.001; AQ, r= .28, p= .048; IOU-12, r= .33, p= .019). Parental traits were entered in the first step, with MAAS being independent significant predictor (t = 3.46, p = .001, β = .463) but AQ (t= .994, p = .326, β = .146) and IOU-12 (t= .423, p = .674, β = .065) not. MAAS stayed as an independent significant predictor (t= 2.92, p = .005, β = .369) after the SSQ-6 Satisfaction score was entered in the next step with SSQ also being unique predictor (t= 3.14, p = .003, β = .382). Finally, DSM-5 DAS and PHQ-9 were entered in the final step in order to control for the effects of anxiety and depression. The final model accounted for 35.5% of variance, with MAAS and SSQ-6 Satisfaction as unique predictors (t = 2.506, p = .016, β = .360 and t = 2.86, p = .007, β = .377 respectively) of CASS-31 total scores.
Our study identified lower mindfulness and lower levels of social support as potential contributing factors to poor somatic health in parents of individuals with autism. Identifying such factors is a crucial first step in developing intervention programmes to provide support for parents.