The Influence of Social Support on the Stress of Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
S. McKee1, K. Bergez1, D. Truong1, A. Meinert1, A. Barton1 and S. S. Mire2, (1)University of Houston, Houston, TX, (2)Psychological, Health, & Learning Sciences, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background: Families raising a child with ASD experience higher levels of stress compared to those with typically developing children or those whose children have other developmental disabilities (e.g., Hastings et al., 2005; Cuzzocrea et al., 2016). Social support is a protective factor against stress (Bailey, Wolfe, & Wolfe, 1994), and may lower stress in families of children with ASD (Pottie & Ingram, 2008). However, social support among parents of children with ASD is lower than among parents of typically developing children or of children with other disabilities (Glazzard & Overall, 2012; Weiss, 2002), and little is known about factors that may increase or decrease social support for families of children with ASD.

Objectives: To investigate types of social support and family factors that may predict lower parental stress among families of children with ASD.

Methods: Data from families of children with ASD (N=45) were collected from a subsample of families from the Simons Simplex Collection. Social support was measured via the Social Support Index (SSI; McCubbin et al., 1991) and further queried in questionnaire format. Parental stress was measured via the Parenting Stress Index – Short Form (PSI-SF; Abidin, 1995) or the Stress Index for Parents of Adolescents (SIPA; Sheras, Abidin, & Konold, 1998). Linear regression analyses were conducted to explore social support prediction of parental stress, and forthcoming analyses will allow further exploration of contributors to parental stress and differences among families depending on specific types of support.

Results: In this sample, all participants were mothers of children with ASD. Child age ranged from 6 to 17 years (M=11.17, SD=3.27). Family income ranged from $18,000 to $490,000 (M=$130,970, SD=94,198.19). Social support scores ranged from 42 to 78 (M=61.13, SD=6.75). Results of linear regression analysis indicated that overall social support significantly predicted parental stress, F(1, 31) = 7.22, p<.05, R2=.189.

Conclusions: Current findings were consistent with previous research in that families’ social support predicted parental stress. However, this sample of parents of children with ASD experienced higher levels of social support than samples of other families with typically developing children (McCubbin, Patterson, & Glynn, 1996), which is contrary to previous research (e.g., Weiss, 2002). One potential contributor to this surprising finding may be the higher-than-average mean socioeconomic status of this sample, which may increase access to community resources and supports. Notably, despite the sample’s overall high level of social support, there was considerable variability in the levels of social support endorsed. Since higher social support predicts lower parental distress within a sample that is well-connected to community resources and supports, attending to families’ connectedness may be key in improving overall family functioning. However, relationships between these factors may vary depending on characteristics of the family (i.e., culture, socioeconomic status, etc.), and this is an important area of future research.