Comparison of Reported Social Support in Single and Two Caregiver Families with a Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Saturday, May 14, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
E. G. Schreiber, Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Westerville, OH
Background: Raising a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been linked to significant stress as reported by the caregiver (Bluth et al., 2013; Hill- Chapman et al., 2013; Kissel & Nelson, 2014). Despite the challenges they face, caregivers of children with an ASD have been shown to be resilient. One area of adjustment and adaptation for these caregivers is social support (Bayat, 2007; Greeff & van der Walt, 2010). Parents raising a child with an ASD report higher levels of “actively seeking and accepting help” (Luther et al., 2005), however, they perceive less available social support in their environment as compared to parents raising a child without a disability (Obeid & Daou, 2015). Additionally, single caregivers of a child with an ASD report lower levels of social support than mothers living with a partner (Bromley et al., 2004).  

Objectives: The current study aimed to better understand the differences between single caregivers versus two-caregiver families of a child with an ASD with regard to the social support they receive and perceive in their environment.

Methods: Female caregivers of a child (2-18 years) with an ASD were recruited through local autism schools, organizations, and social media to complete the study. Participants in the study were of single-caregiver families (n = 65) and those residing with another adult, regardless of relationship status (n = 188). The caregivers completed a demographic survey, the Family Support Scale, and open-ended questions regarding the support they were receiving and wanted to receive.

Results: The majority of the sample was Caucasian, had completed college coursework or a college degree, and reported to be Christian/ Protestant or of no religious affiliation. The mean age of the caregivers was 38.26 years. Additionally, there was a significant difference in reported household income (single-caregiver Md = under $30,000; two-caregiver Md= $30,000-$59,999).

After adjusting for household income, there was a significant difference in Total Family Support (F[1,250] = 8.87, p= .003) between single-caregiver and two-caregiver families. For single-caregiver families, kinship support and professional support were noted to be significantly more “helpful” than the other sources of support. For two-caregiver families, spouse/ partner support and professional support were noted to be significantly more “helpful” than the other sources of support. Additionally, both samples reported they were not receiving, but desired, both therapeutic resources for their child as well as financial resources.

Conclusions:  As social support is associated with a reduction in parental stress, it is important for clinicians to provide support to caregivers directly and to provide information and aid to overcome obstacles in accessing desired social support. Additionally, as single-caregivers report less perceived social support in their environment, it is essential for clinicians, social workers, case managers, or other individuals working with these families to assess areas of social support need and  provide resources to increase the support they receive in order to decrease the discrepancy between types of caregivers.