Families Structure and Children with Autism: Population Estimates and Comparisons Using the United States' National Health Interview Survey

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
K. Hamre, School of Social Work, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

It is important to understand the unique experiences of families who have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While much research in the area of autism has focused on children, comparatively less is known about the family experience. Understanding that a child’s outcomes directly relate to the well-being and ability to adapt of their family, and drawing on family stress adaptation theory, this study investigates the makeup of families in which children with ASD reside, making comparisons to families with a child without a reported diagnosis of ASD.


The purpose of the study was to 1) develop population estimates of various family structures for children with ASD, 2) compare family structure population estimates with that of the general population; and, 3) model the effects of ASD on different family structures, while controlling for key variables.


This study utilized the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 and 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). This survey is a nationally representative, annual, cross sectional, household survey of families in the United States. The sample includes 22,697 families with children ages 3 to 17, of which 489 reported having a child with a diagnosis of ASD. Population estimates and standard errors were constructed and statistically compared to the general population and logistic regression was used to model the effects of ASD on family structure.


Findings include population estimates across family structures with children with a reported ASD diagnosis. Findings indicate 41.5% of children with ASD live in two parent families while 19.1% of children with ASD live in single parent families. More granular family structures are also investigated, including single mothers, single fathers, and cohabitating partners. Key findings include statistically significant differences between the population estimates of the ASD and non-ASD family structures. Among the findings, the results show an estimated 16% of children with ASD live in a home with a single mother, compared to 13.6% of children with no reported ASD diagnosis. In addition, logistic regression model results reveal that children with ASD have lower odds of living in a two-parent household. Children with ASD were found to have higher odds of living with a single mother compared to children without ASD. These logistic models controlled for a number of factors, including race, parent education, and socioeconomic status.


The data indicates that families with children with ASD are having different experiences than families with children without an ASD diagnosis. This study presents population estimates across family structures for children with ASD in the United States, and makes comparisons to the general population. These results have implications in policy and practice for families with children with autism spectrum disorder.