Cognitive Vulnerability and Adjustment to Having a Child with a Disability in Parents of Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Article excerpt

Abstract

Raising a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be associated with considerable distress, requiring continuing adjustment on the part of parents. This study examined the relationship between cognitive vulnerability factors such as negative automatic thoughts, irrational beliefs and meta-cognitive beliefs, and positive and negative emotions in parents of children with ASD. Twenty seven parents of children diagnosed with ASD completed questionnaires measuring frequency of negative automatic thoughts, irrational beliefs related to raising a child with a disability, meta-cognitive beliefs regarding negative and positive emotions, positive and negative emotions, and problem child behavior. Results indicated that irrational beliefs and negative meta-cognitive beliefs about positive emotions are salient cognitive vulnerability factors contributing to fewer positive emotions in parents of children with ASD.

It is concluded that interventions for promoting positive coping and resilience in parents of children with ASD should consider cognitive vulnerability factors such as irrational beliefs and negative metacognitive beliefs about positive emotions and their potential effect on positive emotions.

Keywords: cognitive vulnerability, adaptation of parents of children with ASD, irrational beliefs, meta-cognitive beliefs, positive negative emotions

Raising a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be extremely stressful for parents and carers. Compared to parents of normally developing children and parents of children with other disabilities, parents of children with ASD have been found to experience significantly higher levels of parenting stress and psychological distress (Abbeduto, Seltzer, Shattuck, Krauss, Orsmond, & Murphy, 2004).

Research has investigated various vulnerability factors that influence parent coping and adjustment to having a child with a disability. These have included the severity and frequency of disruptive child behaviors (Lecavalier, Leone, & Wiltz, 2006), parent cognitions and beliefs (Hassall & Rose, 2005) and cognitive resilience factors that foster positive emotions (Hastings & Taunt, 2002). Parents' attributions for their child's behavior, their beliefs regarding the level of control they have over their child's behavior and parents' self-esteem / sense of competence have each been associated with increased stress (Hassall & Rose, 2005). Alternatively, optimism and perceived control are associated with more positive emotions (Ekas, 2009). Positive states are thought to be essential in parent's adjustment and resilience to chronic stress (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000).

To date, research has focused on establishing factors that determine stress and enhance positive emotions amongst parents of children with a disability. There has been less focus on factors which dampen or block the experience of positive emotions amongst parents during times of stress. For instance, in general samples, negative automatic thoughts and unhelpful, and "irrational" beliefs are inversely related to subjective well-being (e.g. Ciarrochi & West, 2004; Froh et al., 2007; Kinney, 2000) and positive emotions (e.g., Tiba & Szentagotai, 2005). The negative relationship between unhelpful beliefs and positive emotions is thought to occur because unhelpful beliefs generate stress which interferes with the experience of positive emotions (Ellis & Dryden, 1997).

Additionally, parents' meta-cognitive beliefs regarding their emotions have not been yet considered in relation to their adjustment to having a child with a disability. Meta-cognitive beliefs are defined as stable knowledge or beliefs about one's own cognitive system, and about factors that affect the functioning of the system (Wells, 2000). Meta-cognitive beliefs were consistently shown to play a crucial role as vulnerability factors to emotional dysfunctions (Harvey, Watkins, Mansell, & Shafran, 2004; Wells, 2000). …