A Three-Part Study Investigating Parent Perceptions of Control Regarding Their Child’s Autism Spectrum Disorder
Background: While children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience symptoms that affect them as individuals, the impact of ASD extends beyond the diagnosed child. Despite strengths, parents of children with ASD face unique challenges and experience higher levels of stress and depression. It is critical to understand and address parent-specific factors that may negatively affect families and, ultimately, children. Parent cognitions, such as perceptions and beliefs, influence coping and have implications for important health-related behaviors, such as those related to intervention needs, decision-making, and processes. More specifically, better understanding parent perceptions regarding control, a construct related to parenting self-efficacy, may aid researchers and healthcare providers in improving support for families of autistic children. Purpose: This three-part study investigated: (1) parent, child, and family variables as predictors of parents’ perceived control; (2) how parents’ perceived control may change over time, and possible relationships between those changes and changes in other child, parent, and/or family factors; and (3) relationship between parents’ perceived control over ASD symptoms and their treatment decision making, when also considering other parent, child, and family characteristics. Methods/Results: Study 1 used data from 362 parents of children with ASD. Multiple linear regression revealed that parents’ perceptions of more/higher control over their children’s symptoms was predicted by lower Parental Distress, child age, and overall ASD symptom severity, as well as higher Positive Coping Skills. Study 2 examined parent perceptions of control related to their child’s ASD for a subset of 16 parents across two time points alongside other individual, parent, and family characteristics. Change in parents’ perceptions of control over symptoms was examined at the item-and scale-level, and findings included that perceptions of control among parents in this small sample were generally high and relatively stable over time, though the sample size limits interpretation and generalizability of these findings; the clinical significance of the change was also considered. Study 3 used a subset of data from 327 parents from study 1. A series of binary logistic regression analyses identified several predictors of ever using specific autism-focused interventions among families in this sample. Parent perceptions of effects of the child’s diagnosis, perceived controllability of symptoms, and perceived severity of core ASD symptoms were the most common significant predictors of families endorsing ever having used certain popular interventions. Conclusion: Outcomes of these interrelated studies have both research and practice implications for better understanding and supporting parents and families of children with ASD. The studies highlight the importance of further exploring parent perceptions regarding control and self-efficacy when working with this population.