Stress & Coping for Parents

Daily Stress, Well-Being and Coping for Parents of Children with Autism (Pottie & Ingram, 2008)

Few studies have attempted to understand how parents of children with Autism cope with the daily demands of raising a child with special needs.  Pottie and Ingram state that the goal of this study was to identify the ways parents adapt to raising a child with special needs and determine the effectiveness of certain coping skills.  Much of the knowledge about coping with stressors shows it to be an ever-changing process that involves the parent’s view of the stressor, his or her personality characteristics, the availability of personal or family support, situational factors, and cognitivebehavioral responses to the stress (Pottie & Ingram, 2008).

Research on parents of children with disabilities has demonstrated that coping skills tend to have a direct effect on the psychological well-being of the parent regardless of the stressor’s effect or its estimated stressfulness (Pottie & Ingram, 2008).  The authors state that one study, Abbeduto, Seltzer, Shattuck, Krauss, Orsmond and Murphy (2004), found that problem-focused coping was related to less psychological distress and a closer mother-child relationship, whereas emotion-based coping was associated with more psychological distress and a less close mother-child relationship.

The present study examined the relationship between daily parental stress, coping, and mood in mothers and fathers raising a child with Autism.  The participants in this study were recruited from the Central Virginia and Pennsylvania chapters of the Autism Society of America.  Sixty of the participants were mothers and thirty-three were fathers.  All of the participants’ children had been diagnosed with Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS, or Asperger’s Syndrome, and most parents were caring for more than two children. Parents completed questionnaires and daily records which assessed their child’s type of ASD symptoms, demographic factors of the family, the parent’s personality characteristics, daily stress, daily mood, and reported coping skills used.

Eleven types of coping skills were identified:

1. Seeking support – reaching out to others for emotional support or practical assistance.

2. Escape/avoidance – removing or disengaging oneself from the stressful situation.

3. Problem solving – taking action to deal with the stressful situation.

4. Seeking distraction – engaging in alternative pleasurable activities or self-care.

5. Blaming – directing anger or frustration at someone else.

6. Focusing on the positive or accepting – seeing a stressful situation in a more positive light.

7. Worrying – constant or frequent thoughts about the stressful event.

8. Expressing and controlling emotions – expressing emotions in a constructive way.

9. Withdrawing socially – staying away from certain people or preventing people from knowing about the stressful situation.

10. Compromising or negotiating – compromising between the needs of the individual and the limits of the stressor.

11. Feeling helpless/letting go – giving up or surrendering because the stress was too overwhelming.

After accounting for personality and situational factors, significantly higher levels of daily positive mood were associated with seeking support, problem solving, focusing on the positive, controlling emotions, and compromising.  Significantly lower levels of daily positive mood were associated with escaping/avoiding, blaming, withdrawing, and helplessness. Significantly lower levels of daily negative mood were associated with emotional regulation, and higher levels of daily negative mood were associated with blaming, worrying, withdrawing, and helplessness. It was found that the types of symptoms of ASD were not predictive of parent daily negative or positive mood. There was marginal evidence to support the effect of time since diagnosis upon a parent’s daily negative mood.  Increased time since diagnosis was slightly predictive of less daily negative mood. Lastly, gender did not affect a parent’s reported daily moods.

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