Parenting Plus: Raising Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Objectives: We aim to present the overall results of multiple studies on parenting behaviours among mothers of children with ASD. The main objectives were twofold: (1) to compare parenting behaviours among mothers of children with and without ASD, and (2) to examine whether and how mother’s parenting behaviours are related to child (gender, age, IQ, ASD characteristics and behaviour problems) and mother (parental stress and psychological well-being) characteristics.
Methods: A multi-method approach was used, combining information from questionnaires, interviews, tests and observations, collected from mother-child dyads across different age groups (Preschool: 22 with and 50 without ASD; Primary school: 30 with and 39 without ASD; Secondary school: 44 with and 38 without ASD).
Results: Parenting behaviours in the ASD group were largely comparable to those in the control group; few differences were found. Across all age groups, mothers of children with ASD scored lower on observed provision of structure. In addition, mothers of preschool and school-aged children scored lower on observed sensitivity and mothers of preschool children with ASD higher on observed negativity towards their child. On the contrary, mothers of children with ASD in secondary school showed more sensitivity and creativity than mothers in the control group. Regarding self-reported parenting behaviours, mothers of preschool children with ASD stimulated the development of their child less, whereas mothers of children with ASD in the older age groups adapted the environment for their child more. However, when controlling for parenting stress, most of the group differences did not remain significant. Based on questionnaires filled out by 73 mothers of children aged 6-16 years, parental control appeared related to lower IQ scores, more ASD characteristics and less externalising behaviour problems of the child in the control group. In the ASD group, parental control was only related to the age of the child. When controlling for parenting stress, the correlation between parental warmth and externalising behaviour became significant, suggesting a suppression effect of parenting stress on this relation.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that (1) parenting behaviours are largely comparable across control and ASD group, (2) behavioural differences between both groups are mostly explained by differences in parenting stress, and (3) mothers of children with ASD become more sensitive/creative across age groups in comparison to the control group. Little child and mother characteristics are found to be related to parenting behaviour in the ASD group as opposed to the control group. Taken together, this suggests that mothers of children with ASD get increasingly adapted to the needs of their child with ASD. Parenting stress seems to have an important effect, suggesting that counsellors should not only focus on the behavioural aspects, but also take parenting stress into account.