Psychosocial Aspects of Parenting a Child with Autism

By Serrata, Cynthia A. | Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Psychosocial Aspects of Parenting a Child with Autism


Serrata, Cynthia A., Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling


Abstract -

This literature review examines the psychosocial aspects involved in parenting a child with autism. Parenting a child with autism not only has an impact upon the parents' psychological well-being, but the family and marriage systems as well. Research suggests that depression and stress levels are significantly higher in parents of children with autism than in parents of typically developing children. The literature available also shows that there is a negative correlation between stress and marriage quality for parents of children with autism. Financial stress is also common as treatments for autism are typically expensive. These findings suggest the importance of rehabilitation counselors in assessing the social networks and social supports of parents of children with autism, as well as providing them with professional and educational support.

Keywords: autism, depression, parents, rehabilitation counselors, stress, supports

A child with autism may have an impairment in using nonverbal behaviors, such as making eye contact, facial expressions, and body gestures towards others. A child with autism may also have difficulty developing peer relationships and may not show interest in participating in social activities. In addition, the child may have a delay or lack of spoken language. The child may also display repetitive and stereotypical patterns of behavior, activities, and interests. For example, the child may engage in repetitive motor mannerisms, such as hand twisting (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

About 1 in 1 10 children and 1 in 70 boys are born with autism (Autism Speaks, 2009). Data indicates that the prevalence of ASD is rising in the United States and that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder (Kogan et al., 2007). As of 2007, approximately 673,000 children between the ages of 3 and 17 years were diagnosed with having ASD (Kogan et al., 2007). The onset of autism occurs before the age of three. Some parents realize that something is different with their child as they begin to notice their child's lack of social interaction with others, impairment in communication, and repetitive behaviors. However, sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between a typically developing child and a child with autism prior to the age of two (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

This literature review examines the psychosocial aspects involved in parenting a child with autism. This review examines how parenting a child with autism has an impact on the family and marriage systems, financial resources, and the parents' psychological well being. This review also discusses the importance of rehabilitation counselors in assessing the social networks and social supports of parents of children with autism, as well as providing them with professional and educational support.

Stressors Characteristic of Parents of Children with Autism

Research suggests that there is a high degree of parental stress (Davis & Carter, 2008; Keen, Couzens, Muspratt, & Rodger, 2010; Meltzer, 2011; Phetrasuwan & Miles, 2009; Rodrigue, Morgan, & Geffken, 1990; Valentine, 2010) and depression (Hodge, Hoffman, & Sweeney, 2010) in mothers and fathers of children with autism. Mothers who report higher levels of stress tend to experience more depressive symptoms and have lower levels of psychological well being (Phetrasuwan & Miles, 2008). The following studies suggested that stress and depression in parents of children with autism are not attributed to one single factor, but a multitude of factors, such as the parents' inability to control their child's behavior (Davis & Carter, 2008), lack of sleep (Lopez- Wagner, Hoffman, Sweeney, & Hodge, 2008; Meltzer, 201 1), genetic factors (Hodge et al., 2010), caregiver role (Smith et al., 2009), acceptance of the disorder (Parkes & Weiss, 1983), familial stress (Meirsschaut, Royers, & Warreyn, 2010), marital stress (Rodrigue et al. …

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