Associations Between Co-Parenting Quality and Challenging Child Eating Behaviors in Families of Children with ASD
While studies have examined stress among parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), little research addresses how parents work together in caring for a child with ASD. Different aspects of parental relationships such as support for spouse can promote well-being for parents facing elevated stress related to having a child with ASD (Brobst et al., 2009). The concept of co-parenting addresses how parents relate to one another specifically in their roles as parents. A common stressor for parents is aversive and restrictive eating-related behaviors among children with ASD (Davis & Carter, 2008; Phetrasuwan & Shandor Miles, 2009)
This paper examines how co-parenting among parents of children with ASD is associated with their assessment of challenging eating behaviors and parenting stress.
112 primary caregivers of a child (aged 5-13) with an ASD diagnosis responded to an emailed online survey about their experiences parenting. The mean age of respondents was 39.9 years (SD = 6.8), 90% were the child’s mother figure (biological, step-, grand-, or adoptive), and 86% were co-residing and married to the co-parent. The mean age of the child was 9.5 years (SD = 2.5) and 81% were male.
Co-parenting quality was assessed using The Coparenting Relationship Scale (CRS; Feinberg, Brown, & Kan, 2012), a 35-item questionnaire assessing the degree of agreement on parenting issues, received support, satisfaction with balance of parenting-related labor, and child exposure to conflict.
Perceptions of child eating challenges were assessed using the Brief Autism Mealtime Behavioral Inventory (BAMBI; Lukens & Linscheid, 2008), an 18-item questionnaire that includes frequency of challenging eating behaviors as well as ratings of behaviors as problematic. Four subscales have been demonstrated within this measure (DeMand, Johnson, & Foldes, 2015): food selectivity, disruptive mealtime behaviors, food refusal, and mealtime rigidity.
Parenting stress was measured using the Parenting Stress Inventory Fourth Edition Short Form (PSI-4-SF; Abidin, 1990), a 36-item instrument summed to yield a total parenting stress score.
Bivariate correlations revealed expected and novel findings (Table 1). As expected, challenging eating behaviors were associated with greater parenting stress and better quality co-parenting was associated with less parenting stress. Co-parenting quality was associated with one particular aspect of eating challenges. When parents reported greater frequency of child disruptive behaviors at mealtimes they also reported exposing their child to more conflict (r = .24, p < .05). When parents reported a greater number of child disruptive behaviors at mealtimes as problematic they reported exposing their child to more conflict (r = .20, p < .05), feeling less supported by their co-parent (r = -.22, p < .05), and less satisfaction with the balance of labor (r = -.24, p < .05).
The unique challenge to co-parenting presented by disruptive mealtime behavior is more evident based on parents’ assessment of the impact of the behavior compared to their assessment of the frequency. Helping parents to be coordinated in their management of disruptive mealtime behaviors may help reduce the behaviors and support their co-parenting efforts more broadly.