The Role of Parent Satisfaction with Parenting Efficacy in Links Between Depressive Symptoms and Observed Parenting in Families of Children with ASD

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. Orr1, A. N. Bailey1, J. M. Moffitt1, S. M. Zeedyk2, R. M. Fenning2 and J. K. Baker2, (1)Center for Autism, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, (2)Child and Adolescent Studies, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
Background: Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk for high levels of stress and mental health problems, including depression (see Ekas, Pruitt, & McKay, 2016, for a review). These factors tend to challenge parenting quality in the general population (Hoffman, Crnic, & Baker, 2006). Despite this risk, observational studies tend to find few to no differences in parenting quality based upon child ASD status (e.g., Baker et al., 2010; Siller & Sigman, 2002; Van Izjendoorn et al., 2007), suggesting potential compartmentalization whereby parents of children with ASD are able to shield their parenting from such deleterious effects.

Objectives: The present study examined an affective component more proximal to parenting, parents’ satisfaction with their sense of parenting efficacy, to see if it could inform links between parent depression and the quality of parent-child interaction in families of children with ASD.

Methods: Participants included 31 ethnically and socioeconomically diverse primary caregivers (2 fathers) of children with ASD between the ages of 4 and 11 years (M = 6.35, SD = 1.96). Parents were asked to complete the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale (CESD-R; Eaton et al., 2004) and the Parenting Sense of Competence questionnaire (PSOC; Johnston & Mash, 1989), which includes a subscale focusing on parents’ feelings of satisfaction with their ability to parent. Parental scaffolding behaviors were rated during a 5-minute parent-child problem solving activity using the Parental Scaffolding Rating System (Hoffman et al., 2006; Baker et al., 2007), which measures parents’ ability to motivate, emotionally-support, and instrumentally guide their children through a frustrating task. These and similar parenting behaviors have been found to be powerful predictors of important outcomes in children with ASD and early developmental delays (e.g., Baker et al., 2007; Baker et al., 2010; Fenning & Baker, 2012).

Results: No demographic variable considered (e.g., ethnicity, child age, child gender, education, income) was related to the variables of interest in a way that would confound the findings (i.e., to two or more variables). Consistent with the potential compartmentalization suggested by the literature, the association between depression and scaffolding was in the expected direction but was relatively low and fell short of significance, r = -.18, ns. Parents’ satisfaction with their parenting competence, however, was moderately related to both parent depressive symptoms, r = -.46, p < .05, and observed scaffolding, r = .39, p < .05.

Conclusions: Consistent with the compartmentalization hypothesis, parents of children with ASD demonstrated only weak and non-significant associations between ratings of their depressive symptoms and their observed parent-child interaction quality. Depression was, however, moderately related to less positive feelings about their parenting efficacy which, in turn, moderately predicted less optimal observed scaffolding. This cross-sectional study cannot determine causal direction, and transactions among the factors are likely; however, findings do suggest the importance of considering affective factors more proximal to the parenting experience when attempting to understand relations between parent mental health and parenting behavior in families of children with ASD.