Wellbeing of Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Gender Difference within an Australian Population-Based Sample.
Objectives: To explore differences in experiences of psychological distrss and physical health (i.e., global health, chronic pain, weight, smoking, problematic alcohol consumption) between fathers and mothers of children with an ASD.
Methods: Data were drawn from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Child (LSAC)3; a large nationally representative study of Australian children and their families. LSAC comprises two cohorts of children, with six waves of data currently available. The present study draws on data from overlapping cohorts when children were aged eight to nine years (Baby-cohort wave 5; Kindergarten-cohort wave 3). Biological or adoptive fathers (n = 156) and mothers (n = 156) of children with an ASD from the same family were identified. Missing data were minimal (<20%) and were addressed by multiple imputation in SPSS 24.04, pooled across 20 parallel imputed datasets5. A series of bivariate logistic regressions were used to estimate the adjusted risk when controlling for known contextual variables which influence psychological and physical health (e.g., socio-economic position, country of birth, parent age, child gender, ASD severity).
Results: The majority of fathers and mothers were not experiencing elevated levels of psychological distress and reported good physical health (i.e., global health, not experiencing chronic pain, not consuming problematic amounts of alcohol, not smoking). However, the majority of fathers and mothers were categorised within an unhealthy weight category based on the Body Mass Index. Compared to mothers, fathers of children with ASD were at greater risk of: engaging in problematic alcohol consumption, adj. OR = 3.13, 95% CI [1.02-9.61]; being classified as underweight, adj. OR = 7.33, 95% CI [2.99-17.93]; and overweight, adj. OR = 2.29, 95% CI [1.13-4.67] on their Body Mass Index.
Conclusions: The results shed important light on the differences in the psychological and physical health of fathers and mothers raising children with an ASD. Fathers were at greater risk of experiencing physical health problems (i.e., problematic alcohol consumption, unhealthy Body Mass Index) than mothers. Parents of children with an ASD often face many stressors and demands, however they often report that there is not enough support directed to their wellbeing6. Continued research and support relating to these difference will improve service capacity to provide quality care to the unique needs of mothers and fathers raising children with ASD.