Parenting Stress in Families with Concerns about ASD in Toddlers Prior to a Diagnosis

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
T. DesChamps1, L. V. Ibanez2, S. R. Edmunds3, C. C. Dick1, E. A. Karp1 and W. L. Stone1, (1)Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, (2)UW READi Lab, Seattle, WA, (3)University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background: Parenting stress, a specific kind of stress that arises from attempts to adapt to the demands of parenthood, is associated with many domains of parent well-being (Deater-Deckard, 2004). Parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience higher levels of parenting stress compared to parents of children with developmental delays and typical development (Hayes & Watson, 2013). However, parents often have concerns about ASD long before receiving a diagnostic evaluation and face many challenges associated with caring for their child in the time between initial concern and diagnosis (Zuckerman et al., 2015). Although initial reports suggest that ASD-concerned parents may experience greater parenting stress prior to diagnosis compared to parents without ASD concerns (Mulligan et al., 2012; Ibanez et al., in prep), parenting stress has not been investigated longitudinally. To better characterize the challenging experiences faced by ASD-concerned parents, work is needed to explore patterns of parentings stress across a uniquely tumultuous time in their child’s early development.

Objectives: To assess longitudinal level and change in parenting stress among parents with explicit concerns about ASD during their child’s early development.

Methods: Preliminary analyses were conducted on data collected from 282 parents expressing different kinds of concern about their young child’s development (ASD concerns, n = 50; other types of developmental concerns [e.g., motor delay], n = 57; no concerns, n = 175). Parents were recruited through their child’s health care provider as part of a larger study (data collection on-going). Self-reported parenting stress (Parenting stress Index-Short Form; Abidin, 1995) was collected 3 times at 3-month intervals from parents of children who were 16 to 36 months old. Time 1 measures of parenting efficacy (Maternal Efficacy Scale; Teti & Galfand, 1991), parent psychological and social well-being (WHO Quality of Life, 1997), and child social behavior (Parent Interview for Autism-Clinical Version; Stone, 2003) were tested as additional predictors of parenting stress. Preliminary analyses using Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002) examined between- and within-person variation in parenting stress over time.

Results: Preliminary results revealed that parenting stress remained stable across early development. However, parents concerned about ASD had significantly greater parenting stress compared to parents with non-ASD developmental concerns, b = 28.34, SE = 4.12, p = .000, and parents with no concerns, b = 31.96, SE = 3.50, p = .000. Additionally, higher levels of Time 1 parenting efficacy, psychological and social well-being, and child social behavior predicted lower levels of parenting stress, ps < .01. Finally, psychological well-being mitigated parenting stress more strongly among ASD-concerned parents compared to parents with no concerns, b = -6.50, SE = 3.04, p =.03.

Conclusions: Parents who are specifically concerned about ASD during their child’s early development experience levels of parenting stress that are consistently higher than parents with either non-ASD developmental concerns or no developmental concerns. However, greater psychological well-being may mitigate parenting stress among ASD-concerned parents, suggesting that parent-focused interventions to improve psychological health may benefit parents who are navigating unique challenges prior to an ASD diagnostic evaluation.