Academic journal article Family Relations

Daily Work Stress and Awakening Cortisol in Mothers of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders or Fragile X Syndrome

Academic journal article Family Relations

Daily Work Stress and Awakening Cortisol in Mothers of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders or Fragile X Syndrome

Article excerpt

WORK STRESS ON PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING

There are unique challenges and opportunities in parenting an adolescent or adult with a developmental disability (DD). Although there is evidence of resiliency as well as vulnerability (e.g., Bekhet, Johnson, & Zauszniewski, 2012), parenting an individual with a DD often translates into higher stress levels, poorer psychological functioning, and more physical symptoms as compared to parents of typically developing children (Smith, Seltzer, & Greenberg, 2012). Recent studies have shown that child-related stressors can take a toll on neuroendocrine activity in parents of adoles- cents and adults with DD but have less impact on the physiological functioning of parents of individuals without disabilities (Seltzer et al., 2009). Less attention has been directed toward the effects of nonfamily stress on the physiolog- ical functioning of parents of individuals with disabilities. This study investigated the impact of work stress on the awakening cortisol level in mothers of adolescents and adults with and without DD. Specifically, we studied mothers of adolescents and adults with autism spectrum dis- orders (ASD) and mothers of those with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) and compared them with mothers of nondisabled similar-age children.

Caregiving and well-being

The life expectancy of individuals with DD has increased over the past several decades (e.g., Janicki, Dalton, Henderson, & Davidson, 1999), and many rely on family members throughout adulthood (Seltzer, Krauss, Orsmond, & Vestal, 2000). Thus, caring for a son or daughter with a DD often lasts into the parent's old age. Smith et al. (2010) demonstrated that mothers of individuals with ASD are exposed to more daily stressors than mothers of individuals without disabilities. Greater exposure to stressors often leads to poorer psychological status, impaired physical health, and worse life course outcomes for these parents. Smith and colleagues (2012) also found that the mothers of a son or daughter with a DD (either ASD or FXS) experienced more days with headaches, backaches, and fatigue than mothers of a child without a disability. Seltzer, Greenberg, Floyd, Pettee, and Hong (2001) demonstrated that, as compared to mothers of individuals without DD, mothers of children with DD had lower rates of employment and social participation and were more likely than parents of typically developing children to report that family matters reduced the time available for their job. Together, these findings indicate that caring for a son or daughter with a DD takes a toll on multiple aspects of a parent's life, including work as well as family.

Work and caregiving

The interplay of work and family in shaping psychological and physical well-being has been studied extensively (e.g., Grzywacz, Almeida, & McDonald, 2002; Moen, Kelly, & Huang, 2008). Although employment offers caregivers psychological and physical benefits (e.g., Hong & Seltzer, 1995), working caregivers are likely to experience strain when balancing work and family demands. Job strain in working care- givers has been linked to negative psychological and physical outcomes, including burden and worry (e.g., Molloy et al., 2008). These findings suggest that the impacts of work stressors on health may be accentuated by caregiving respon- sibilities, and that the strain of balancing work and family responsibilities is likely to increase working caregivers' risk for dysregulated stress physiology. This study investigates how stress at work affected the physiological functioning, as measured by awakening cortisol levels, of mothers of adolescents and adults with and without DD.

Work stress and cortisol

Some attention already has been focused on determining whether work stress has a potent psychosocial influence on physiological out- comes, especially on autonomic and endocrine activity. Cortisol is an important marker of stress reactivity (Adam & Gunnar, 2001) and is frequently used as a general indicator of neuroendocrine regulation. …

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