Parental Psychological Distress and Health-Related Quality of Life: The Impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Parental Counseling
Objectives: The primary aim of the current study was to measure anxiety and depressive symptoms and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in parents of children diagnosed with ASD and determine their demographic correlates. A secondary aim was to evaluate the impact of systematic counseling on parental psychosocial functioning.
Methods: The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and the Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36) were used to assess anxiety, depression and HRQOL, respectively. All participants were administered these questionnaires at baseline. Moreover, a sub-group of parents were re-evaluated after 6-12 months of systematic counseling.
Results: 81 parents participated to the study, 54 with a child diagnosed with ASD according to DSM-V criteria and standardized evaluations(CARS, SCQ, ADOS-2) and 27 with mentally and physically healthy children. Parents of ASD children reported increased levels of anxiety (p=0.040) and depression (p=0.001) and lower scores in social functioning (p=0.004) compared to parents of healthy children. Among parents of ASD children, parents with younger children reported lower anxiety scores (r=0.359, p=0.010) and higher vitality (r=-0.389, p=0.006), social functioning (r=-0.389, p=0.006) and mental health (r=-0.484, p=0.000) scores. In addition, employed parents scored significantly lower (p=0.017) in the general health sub-domain of HRQOL. Twenty-three (23) parents of ASD children were prospectively followed-up and re-administered the above questionnaires after 6-12 months. Seventeen (17) of these parents had received regular parental counseling sessions, while 6 parents had not. Parents which had received counseling reported significant improvement in the mental health sub-domain of the SF36 (p=0.027) compared to parents which were not engaged in parental counseling.
Conclusions: Parenting ASD children is associated with significant psychological distress and disturbed social functioning. Systematic parental counseling may lessen parents’ psychosocial burden by improving mental health-related HRQOL.