Parenting Stress and Emotional Availability in the Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
Y. Ozturk, A. Bentenuto, N. Mazzoni and P. Venuti, University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy
Background:  Rearing a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a unique challenge for both parents. Parenting a child with ASD is stressful and impacting overall quality of life. In the last decades, a number of factors have been found as impacting parents’ psychological well-being in the family of children with ASD. However, far too little attention has been paid to the dyadic quality of emotional availability in parent-child interactions, considering the perspectives of both the adult and child.

Objectives: Our main goal was to explore the association among parenting stress, observed behaviors of children and parents during interaction and a number of child and family characteristics, including autism severity, cognitive functioning, age and SES.

Methods:  Participants were 40 mothers and 40 fathers of children with ASD (Range chronological age = 18 - 48 months). Data were collected using The Emotional Availability Scale (EAS), the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form (PSI-SF), the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Griffith Mental Development Scales (GMDS). EA in parent-child dyads was coded using the EAS which includes four scales reflecting parents’ sensitivity, structuring, non-intrusiveness and non-hostility, and two scales reflecting child’s responsiveness and involvement. The data were collected during 10-min play sessions for mother-child and father-child dyads.

Results:  Parenting stress and emotional availability scales were found to be associated in the present study. In particular, parenting stress scores were negatively correlated with the scores for Emotional Availability. The preliminary results showed that the Parent-Child Dysfunctional Interaction and the Parenting Distress scales of the PSI-SF were negatively correlated with the Sensitivity scale of the EAS for mothers.

Conclusions: These results suggest that the emotional availability and the psychological well-being of parents are connected. In the family of children with ASD, it is important to measure the emotional exchange of mothers and fathers to assess parent-child interactions and to explore parents’ distress. This study might be useful to implement treatments for children with ASD focusing on parent-child interaction and on supporting the development of high-quality dyadic relationship.