Predicting Parenting Stress in Parents of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Examining Parent Perceptions



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For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), core symptoms (i.e., social communication deficits, restricted interests/repetitive behaviors) and associated emotional and behavioral problems create difficulties across areas of functioning. Moreover, while symptoms often change with age, some degree of impairment tends to persist across the lifespan. For these reasons, having a child with ASD creates unique caretaking challenges. Parents of individuals with ASD experience high levels of parenting stress at all stages of their child’s life (e.g., early childhood, adolescence, adulthood). Adolescence is a challenging stage for parents of typically developing individuals, and parenting demands during adolescence are compounded when a child has ASD. Literature indicates that a variety of interrelated factors contribute to parenting stress. One theoretical model, the Double ABCX Model of Family Adjustment (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983), describes the complex interaction of factors contributing to how families adjust to stressors in their lives. In the context of parents of adolescents with ASD, this model provides a theoretical lens through which the impact of factors such as social support, coping, and cognitive appraisal of a stressor (i.e., how the impact of a stressor is defined) can be understood as they relate to parenting stress. Particularly lacking is literature examining how parents’ perceptions about their child’s ASD may affect their own parenting stress. This study investigated parent perceptions as predictors of parenting stress in parents of adolescents with ASD. The sample was drawn from across the U.S. and included 214 parents of adolescents (ages 12 to 19) with confirmed ASD diagnoses. Six specific parent perceptions were examined, including perceptions about ASD (i.e., personal control over ASD, whether ASD can be controlled by treatment, the extent to which the disorder seems cyclical in nature, and how understandable the disorder seems) and parents’ self-reported perceptions about available support (i.e., family-based support and social support). A multiple regression was conducted to investigate whether parent perceptions significantly predicted parenting stress. The model accounted for 43.3% of the overall variance in parenting stress; three specific types of perceptions uniquely contributed to parenting stress. Perceptions about family based support and treatment control predicted lower parenting stress, while perceptions about cyclical nature of the disorder predicted higher parenting stress. In addition, positive coping was examined as a potential moderator of the relationship between parent perceptions and parenting stress, though findings did not support a moderating effect of positive coping in this sample. Overall, results of this study helped identify several perception types (i.e., family based support, treatment control, cyclical nature of the disorder) that may contribute to the stress experienced by parents of adolescents with ASD. These results underscore the importance of understanding parents’ perceptions in research and clinical work focused on these families. Findings may inform the development of cognitively focused, targeted interventions to reduce (or even prevent) stress among parents of adolescents with ASD, given that perceptions found to contribute to parenting stress in this study likely are amenable to change.



Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Parental stress