Predictors of Anxiety in Parents of Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Previous research has suggested that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have higher levels of stress and higher prevalence of anxiety than both parents of typically developing children and other disabilities. During transition from secondary school into adulthood, individuals with ASD lose their entitlements to many services they have received while in school, and parents often must take on increased responsibility for service coordination. Therefore it can be expected that this period will be particularly stressful for parents and might lead to increased levels of anxiety. There are however, notable individual differences in the way individuals respond to stress. It has been shown that particular individual characteristics, as well as environmental characteristics, can on one hand prolong the effects of negative life events, making individuals more susceptible to the negative psychological effects of chronic stress, and on other hand serve as resilience factors. However, factors that might put these parents at increased risk for developing anxiety are currently under-researched.
To identify factors associated with higher levels of anxiety in parents of adolescents and young adults with ASD, in particular focusing on intolerance of uncertainty (IU), mindfulness, and broader autism phenotype traits (BAP) as parental characteristics, and social support, as characteristic of the environment.
Ninety-three parents of adolescents and young adults with ASD (Parents: Mage= 50.19 years, SDage= 5.78; 86 females; Children: Mage= 19.14 years, SDage= 2.53, range) completed questionnaires assessing anxiety (DSM-5 Dimensional Anxiety Scales; DSM-5 DAS), BAP traits (Autism Quotient-10; AQ-10), mindfulness (Mindful Awareness Scale; MAAS), social support (Social Support Questionaire-6; SSQ-6), and IU (Intolerance of Uncertainty scale-12; IUS-12). Both parents and young people with ASD were participants in the Australian Autism CRC longitudinal School Leavers study.
No statistically significant association was found between chronological age, gender, BAP traits and anxiety. IU (r= .59, p < .001), mindfulness (r= -.54, p < .001) and level of social support (r= -.42, p < .001) were all associated with anxiety. A multiple regression model was conducted in order to examine relative contribution of these variables in predicting anxiety. The final model accounted for 54% of variance in anxiety, with IU, mindfulness and social support all unique, independent predictors, t = 5.30, p < .001, β = .265; t = -4.31, p < .001, β = -.480; and t = 3.12, p = .002, β = .272, respectively.
This study identified lower mindfulness, lower levels of social support and higher levels of IU as independent, contributing factors to elevated levels of anxiety in parents of adolescents and young adults with autism. Identifying these risk and resilience factors is of particular importance for informing the effective parental support programs.