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The factors predicting stress, anxiety and depression in the parents of children with autism

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Falk, NH (2012) The factors predicting stress, anxiety and depression in the parents of children with autism. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The parents of children with autism have been demonstrated to report
significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than the parents of
developmentally normal children. However, the factors predicting stress, anxiety and
depression in this parental group remains poorly understood. The present study
examined the variables predicting stress, anxiety and depression in the mothers and
fathers of children with autism, and tested the validity of a path model describing the
relationship between these variables. Three separate studies were carried out, the first
focused on mothers of children with autism, the second focused on fathers of children
with autism, and the third assessing model fit.
Mothers (N=250) and fathers (N=229) of children with autism aged 4 to 17
years 11 months completed an on-line questionnaire measuring social and economic
support, psychological distress, perceived parent-child attachment, parental locus of
control, autism symptom severity and child externalizing behaviours. Stepwise
regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between independent and
dependent variables. The results of Study one, which focused on the mothers of
children with autism, suggested a different pattern of predictive variables for stress,
anxiety and depression in this maternal group. Aggressive Behaviour, Social Support
and Parental Locus of Control significantly predicted maternal depression; whereas
Mother’s Age, Autism Symptom Severity and Perceived Limit Setting Ability
significantly predicted maternal anxiety. The predictive model for maternal stress was
a combination of the predictive models for maternal anxiety and depression. In
contrast, the predictive model for fathers of children with autism, as investigated in
Study two, was consistent across dependent variables. Social Support and Perceived
Limit Setting Ability were the primary predictors for paternal stress, anxiety and depression. Conduct Problems, a variable identified in the existing literature as
predictive of stress, anxiety and depression in the parents of children with autism, was
not a significant predictor in any of the six stepwise regression models. The results
indicated that the relationship between ‘child-centric variables’ (i.e. externalizing
behaviours and autism symptom severity) and parental mental health problems may
be mediated by other variables.
The results of the stepwise regression analyses formed the rationale for a
pathway model describing the relationship between the variables, which was assessed
for statistical fit with the observed data in Study three. The model positioned parental
cognitions and socio-economic support as a mediator of the relationship between
‘child-centric variables’ and parental distress. Confirmatory Factor Analysis was used
to assess the fit of the model with the observed data. The model was shown to be a
good fit with the data for both mothers and fathers. Invariance testing, using the
Satorra-Bentler chi-square difference test, demonstrated support for metric invariance
for the model across gender.
The results of the study were used to propose changes to the existing support
services offered to parents of children with autism, and the consideration of a more
holistic approach, combining psychotherapeutic support for the parent with
behavioural management programs related to the child.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: autism, depression, stress, anxiety, predictors, support services
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Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2013 00:24
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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