Child Impact on the Family and Parent Social Support in Families of Children at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Objectives: The current study explored the impact of child functioning on the family, and assessed the role of parent social support in this relationship. Our research questions were: (1) Is child social functioning associated with child impact on positive feelings about parenting, negative feelings about parenting, parent social life, family finances, parent marriage/couple relationship, and/or siblings? (2) Does parent social support moderate the relation between child social functioning and child impact on feelings about parenting?
Methods: Data were collected from 320 parents/guardians of children, aged 15-34 months (M = 21.10, SD = 3.67), identified as “at-risk” on the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT; Robins, Fein, Barton, & Green, 2001) during routine screening for ASD across 14 urban pediatric clinics. This data was baseline data from participants enrolled in an NIMH funded randomized controlled trial of Family Navigation. Parents reported on the child’s adaptive social behavior (ABAS-II; Rust & Wallace, 2004), their perceptions of the child’s impact on the family, as measured by six subscales (positive feelings toward parenting, negative feelings toward parenting, impact on parent social life, financial impact, impact on marriage, and impact on siblings) of The Family Impact Questionnaire (FIQ; Donenberg & Baker, 1993), and parental social support, measured by the Medical Outcome Study Social Support Survey (MOS-SSS, Sherbourne & Stewart, 1991). Structural equation modeling within Analysis of Moment Structure (AMOS, version 21.0; Arbuckle, 2012) was used for analyses.
Results: Child social functioning significantly impacted both positive (β=.23, SE=.05, p<.001), and negative (β=-.12, SE=.05, p=.026) feelings about parenting, parent social life (β=-.19, SE=.06, p<.001), and siblings (β=-.15, SE=.07, p=.028). Parent social support did not moderate this relation, but there was an independent effect of social support on positive (β=.29, SE=.05, p<.001), and negative (β=-.27, SE=.05, p<.001) feelings about parenting, family finances (β=-.11, SE=.06, p=.047), and parent marriage/couple relationship (β=-.39, SE=.07, p<.001). Other variables, such as parent language (β=-.19, SE=.08, p<.001) and child age (β’s=.12-.19., SE’s=.02-.02, p=.002-.045) were also independently related to the level of child impact on the family
Conclusions: Results highlight the importance of child social functioning and parent social support in understanding the impact a child at risk for ASD has on the family, but suggest that social support did not operate as a moderator. Other variables, such as language and child age, should be considered as potential moderators for future attempts to improve parental well-being of children at risk for ASD.