Published online Mar 27, 2019. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v9.i2.30
Peer-review started: May 29, 2018
First decision: July 9, 2018
Revised: February 5, 2019
Accepted: February 18, 2019
Article in press: February 19, 2019
Published online: March 27, 2019
Previous research suggests that parents raising a child with autism experience higher levels of psychological distress than parents of typically developing children and parents of children with other developmental disorders. Little is known, however, about the intersection between the effects of socioeconomic status (SES) on the wellbeing and sense of parental competency of parents of pre-schoolers with autism and how it relates to child symptom severity.
To examine the relationship between their child’s symptom severity, SES, as measured by neighbourhood advantage and occupational status, on the psychological wellbeing and perceived parenting competence among parents of preschoolers with autism.
Parents of 117 preschool-aged children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 107 mothers and 54 fathers, completed questionnaires about their child’s symptoms of ASD and functioning, their own perceptions of their wellbeing and parental competence on entry to an early intervention program in Sydney, Australia. Parents also provided demographic information pertaining to their occupation, level of education attained and address (postcode). All children were also assessed for their severity of symptoms using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. The Australian Socioeconomic Index of occupational status as a measure of familial SES and the Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage as a measure of neighbourhood advantage were used to examine the impact of SES on parental sense of competence and wellbeing.
Compared to normative populations, both mothers and fathers in our sample reported significantly higher levels of parenting sense of efficacy but lower levels of interest in the parenting role. Mothers also displayed higher levels of satisfaction. Both mothers and fathers displayed higher levels of depression than normative populations with mothers also reporting greater levels of stress and anxiety. Child symptom severity was associated with maternal parenting competency with these relationships amplified among mothers with higher familial SES and who lived in areas of greater neighbourhood advantage. Increased adaptive functioning was associated with better maternal wellbeing, particularly among mothers who lived in areas of greater neighbourhood advantage. Contrastingly, paternal parenting competence was generally not influenced by child adaptive functioning or symptom severity, although for those in higher familial SES brackets, children’s symptom severity and maladaptive symptoms were negatively related to paternal sense of parenting efficacy. There was a trend towards moderate relationships between lower familial SES and greater depression, stress and anxiety among fathers, but no relationship with their child’s ASD symptom severity or functioning.
SES differentially impacts wellbeing and sense of parenting competence and its relationship to the impact of child symptoms for mothers and fathers of preschoolers with autism.
Core tip: Previous research suggests that parents raising a child with autism experience comparatively higher levels of psychological distress than other parents. Little is known, however, about how socioeconomic status (SES) affects perceived parenting competence and overall wellbeing and how these factors relate to the nature of children’s autism. In this study, a cross-sectional analysis of parents of preschoolers with autism found that mothers and fathers were differentially affected by SES and their children’s symptom severity. Those working with parents of pre-schoolers with autism need to consider differential effects of factors, such as SES and symptom severity, in contributing to maternal and paternal wellbeing and their experiences of parenting.