Predictors for Parent Wellbeing Around the Time of Young Child ASD Diagnosis

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. J. Grant1 and K. Hudry2, (1)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe Univeristy, Melbourne, Australia, (2)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA
Background: Research has established that the stress associated with raising a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has considerable impact upon parent wellbeing (Karst, 2012). However, there is a relative paucity of studies investigating parent wellbeing specifically around the time a child is diagnosed, resulting in a limited understanding of the factors that have the greatest impact upon parent wellbeing at this particular point in time. Stress around diagnosis is reported to trigger uncertainty and helplessness in parents (Bruey, 2004; Schall, 2000), and acute psychological distress (i.e., anxiety, depression symptoms), which risks becoming stable and ingrained over time (Estes et al., 2013). Therefore, further investigation of factors which contribute to parent wellbeing during this time will develop current understanding and propensity to support parent wellbeing.

Objectives: This study investigated a variety of factors as potential predictors of concurrent parental wellbeing around the time their child was assessed for an ASD. It was predicted that parents at increased vulnerability would use poorer coping mechanisms and have poorer wellbeing outcomes. 

Methods: Forty-seven parents with children aged 2-4 years who were recently diagnosed/assessed for an ASD participated in the study. Parents completed questionnaires regarding vulnerability factors (i.e., parenting self-efficacy, ASD trait expression, and socioeconomic status), coping styles (i.e., use of social support, engagement with stressors, distraction/disengage from the issue), and current wellbeing (i.e., depression, anxiety, affect). Children were assessed using ADOS-2 to confirm the appropriateness of their community-assigned ASD diagnosis.

Results: Parents who reported more symptoms of depression and stress around the time of their child’s ASD diagnosis were those also reporting greater vulnerability in terms of lower parenting self-efficacy, and those who more often used distraction/disengagement as a method of coping. Furthermore, parents who reported more symptoms of anxiety and more negative affect around this time were also those who reported increased vulnerability in terms of greater ASD trait expression, and also more often used distraction/disengagement coping. By contrast, parents who reported more positive affect around the time of their child’s ASD diagnosis were those who also reported greater parenting self-efficacy and used reframing of stressors as an adaptive coping style.

Conclusions: The clear patterns of concurrent association between elevated vulnerability factors, the use of less adaptive coping styles, and poorer wellbeing among parents of young children with recent ASD diagnoses highlight the need to target aspects of parent functioning directly at this point in the family’s journey with ASD. Given that the focus of practitioners and parents is often highly focused on the child, it is particularly important that focus during the diagnostic period incorporates parent support. Professional support that increases parenting confidence may promote more adaptive styles of coping, both of which are clearly indicated in order to improve parent wellbeing.