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How Does Autism in Children Affect Parenting Stress?

Researchers investigated parenting stress and quality of life of those who have children with normal-range intelligence autism in Poland.

Parents of children who have autism face many challenges on a daily basis due to their children’s obstacles in life. Children with autism are a mixed population ranging from low to high-range intelligence, however, their parents are often grouped into one category as “parents of children with autism”. The number of children that are diagnosed with autism with normal-range intelligence has been on the rise recently and we need to really understand how parents adjust to this stress with this group of autistic children.

These parents may experience even higher levels of stress than those with children with intellectual disability due to the fact that their children often don’t receive a concise diagnosis before the age of four. Parenting stress can be a result of many things such as their child’s social behaviour and experience of bullying as well as being more dependent than their peers. These children can often suffer from emotional problems that could very easily contribute to their parent’s stress. Furthermore, most studies that have been conducted until presently have solely focused on the mother’s stress and disregarded the father’s stress for parents with autistic children with normal-range intelligence.

A Polish research group set out to determine how Polish mothers and fathers of children with autism with normal-range intelligence view their families and their parenting stress and further explore this relationship. Ewa Pisula’s research group published their finding on this topic in a recent PLoS One journal. The study included 2 different groups of parents (202 in total). The two groups were parents with autistic children (49 mother-father pairs) and parents of typically developing children (52 mother-father pairs). The criteria for the parents with the autistic children have to include that their child was diagnosed with autism, had normal-range intelligence, lived at home with their parents and were between the ages of 5 and 17 years. Questionnaires were used to measure family functioning, parenting stress, and quality of life.

Parents of children with autism indicated lower family functioning as a whole as well as lower individual functioning as a family member. These parents also showed higher levels of parenting stress and in general a lower quality of life. The mothers of these children experienced more parenting stress than the fathers. In addition, there was very strong correlation between the mother-father pairs in how they answered the different questionnaires and their assessments of all the different domains. Like in many countries, supports are often only available for a minority of children with autism in Poland, and the burden of arranging support falls to the parents.  As a result, parents experience limitations to their professional ability, loss of income, social stigmatization, and isolation.

In conclusion, this study reveals that family functioning and parenting stress in parents who have children with autism with normal-range intelligence is much different than in parents who have normally developing children. The authors make note that the relationships that are revealed in this study are most likely much more complex than they appear to be from their results. This study expands the available knowledge about how families with autistic children with normal-range intelligence function. This could lead to more studies on how to better understand and combat the stressors and different aspects of lower quality of life in these families.

Written by Ingrid Qemo, BSc

Source: Pisula, E., and Porebowicz-Dorsmann, A. (2017). Family functioning, parenting stress and quality of life in mothers and fathers of Polish children with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. PLoS One. 12(10):e0186536.



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