The Impact of Personality Traits on Outcomes in Caregivers of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Transition Period
Raising children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a difficult challenge for primary caregivers. Previous studies have identified child (e.g., number of problem behaviors) and parent factors (e.g., social support) related to caregiving stress (Stuart & McGrew, 2009). However, few studies have examined the impact of the “big 5” personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness; Costa & McCrae, 1992) on caregiving stress and how they may affect caregiving stress, although this is an area of active research in understanding caregiving in other disorders (e.g., cancer caregiving).
The current study examined the potential impact of caregivers’ personality traits on stress during the period when individuals with ASD transition out of high school. The study also examined potential mediators and moderators (e.g., coping skills, use of negative appraisals) to determine how personality traits affect caregiving stress. The Double ABCX model was used as a framework (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983), which views caregiving stress as the additive impact of several independent factors: stressors, internal resources, and external resources.
A total of 117 participants, recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk and other methods (e.g., parent support groups, autism listservs), were caregivers of individuals with ASD who either will graduate within two years or graduated from high school within the past two years. Caregivers completed questionnaires online measuring caregiver burden, stressors (i.e., ASD symptom severity, problem behaviors, pile-up demands), internal resources (i.e., personality traits, cognitive appraisals, and coping strategies), and external resources (i.e., social support).
Parents reported moderate levels of caregiving stress in the transition period (M = 2.06, SD = .75). Greater caregiving stress was associated with higher neuroticism (r = .52, p <.001), and lower levels of extraversion (r = -.31, p <.001), conscientiousness (r = -.32, p <.001), and agreeableness (r = -.22, p = .01). Parallel mediation analyses indicated that use of passive avoidance as a coping strategy was a significant mediator between caregiving stress and all four personality traits, neuroticism (Indirect effect = .02, SE = .01, 95% CI = .01, .03), extraversion (Indirect effect = -.02, SE = .01, 95% CI = -.04, -.01), conscientiousness (Indirect effect = -.03, SE = .01, 95% CI = -.05, -.01), and agreeableness (Indirect effect = -.03, SE = .01, 95% CI = -.04, -.01). Social support mediated the link between agreeableness and caregiver burden (Indirect effect = -.01, SE = .01, 95% CI = -.03, -.001).
The results demonstrate the potential importance of personality traits in explaining differences in caregiving stress in families of those with ASD. Specifically, parents high in neuroticism reported greater stress, whereas those high in conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness reported lower stress. Results further indicated that the association between personality and burden was mediated by caregivers’ use of maladaptive coping strategies, i.e., passive avoidance coping. The findings have potential applicability for interventions to reduce caregiver burden.