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
There is converging evidence that higher levels of stress and psychological distress is experienced by parents of children with autism compared to typically developing children.
There is limited research on the role of socioeconomic status (SES) on the wellbeing of parents of preschool children with autism and its impact if any on parental competency and children's autism symptom severity
The primary objective of this study was to examine the relationship between symptom severity, SES and psychological wellbeing among parents of preschoolers with autism. The findings will have implications for future planning of services to support the parents and also for future research on family and psychosocial predictors of treatment response.
The study assessed parents (mothers and fathers) of preschool-aged children with autism on their own perceptions of parental competence and wellbeing using questionnaires and children were assessed using objective standardised measures of autism severity, cognitive level and parent reports of adaptive functioning.
A differential impact was observed for mothers and fathers as to the impact of SES and their child’s symptom severity on their parenting competence and sense of wellbeing.
The findings from this study suggest that SES differentially impacts the wellbeing and sense of parenting competence in fathers and mothers of preschool children with autism. While both mothers and fathers displayed higher levels of depression than normative populations, mothers also reported greater levels of stress and anxiety. Child symptom severity was associated with maternal parenting competency, and this was exaggerated among mothers with higher familial SES and who lived in areas of greater neighbourhood advantage. However, paternal parenting competence was generally not influenced by child adaptive functioning or symptom severity, albeit for those from higher familial SES background, there was an inverse relationship between children’s symptom severity and maladaptive symptoms and paternal sense of parenting efficacy. This has implications for service provision as it highlights the need for comprehensive assessment of the support needs for both fathers and mothers independently.
Since this study was done in a specialised early intervention centre, the findings may have been influenced by sampling bias in terms of access to such services. In this regard, families in the lowest SES category were underrepresented and this was particularly the case for father participation in this research project. It is possible that lower SES families may not have had the benefit of early identification and enrolment to early intervention centres such as the one where this project was undertaken. This may have been compounded by the fact that fathers from lower SES background may have less time availability and capacity to participate in research. Future studies would benefit from targeted recruitment of those sections of the autism community who are currently not engaging with routine health services and are also underrepresented in research.