The Quality, Not Quantity, of Play for Fathers of Children with Autism
Objectives: The present study investigated the quality of fathers’ physical play with their children with ASD and the outcomes of this for fathers, including: parenting stress, impact on parenting, and life satisfaction. Fathers’ qualitative responses to questions regarding the quality of fathers’ play were also examined. In addition, the established association between quantity of physical play and parenting stress was re-examined after accounting for the quality of fathers’ play.
Methods: An online survey was completed by 60 fathers of sons with ASD aged 4 to 11 years. The survey included an ASD child screening measure, and questions regarding fathers’ satisfaction with play, father-son relationship quality, frequency of play, and fathers’ well-being (i.e. parenting stress, impact on parenting, and life satisfaction). Participants (Mage = 39.9) were primarily biological fathers, married, Caucasian, from Canada, and living in the same home as their sons with ASD (Mage = 6.9). An optional phone interview was conducted with a sub-sample of 20 fathers during which they answered two questions related to the quality of their play.
Results: Multiple regression analyses revealed that greater satisfaction with play and greater relationship quality both significantly predicted lower parenting stress, lower impact on parenting, and greater life satisfaction. Moreover, though frequency of play significantly predicted lower parenting stress for fathers, this was no longer significant after accounting for the quality of fathers’ play. Responses to open-ended questions regarding the quality of fathers’ play were analyzed qualitatively and four overarching themes were identified. Fathers reported that play is Positive and Fun, Negative and Challenging, Important to the Relationship, and part of a Father’s Role.
Conclusions: Results suggested that the quality of play can have benefits for fathers of children with ASD, including aspects of parenting stress, impact on parenting, and life satisfaction. Moreover, results suggested that fathers’ quality of play may be even more important to fathers’ well-being than the quantity of play. These findings are consistent with the literature for fathers of typically developing children. Fathers’ qualitative responses similarly highlighted their positive and negative experiences in play, and the importance of engaging in quality play for their father-son relationship and their role as a father. For instance, one father said, “my son and I have a very close relationship… we always try to find time for play and quality time together”. Implications for conceptualizing father-child play and understanding the importance of engaging in quality play will be discussed.