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Parenting in families with a child with autism spectrum disorder and a typically developing child: Mother’s experiences and cognitions

by Meirsschaut, M., Roeyers, H., & Warreyn, P.

Meirsschaut, M., Roeyers, H. & Warreyn, P. (2010). Parenting in families with a child with autism spectrum disorder and a typically developing child: Mother’s experiences and cognitions. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4(1), 661-669.

Objective:  The purpose of this study is trifold.  It seeks to investigate how mothers perceive the impact of their young child with ASD on their personal and family life, compare parenting cognitions of mothers towards their child with ASD and towards their typically developing child, explore associations between the parenting cognitions about a child with ASD and about a typically developing child.

Method:  Seventeen mothers ranging in age from 27 to 47 years of age with a child with ASD and a younger typically developing child participated in the study.  This study is part of a larger longitudinal study on mother-child interaction in families with a child with ASD and a typically developing child therefore both mother and child were invited for an observation of mother-child interaction.  Both children were assessed using the Social Communication Questionnaire.  The mothers were interviewed by the first author including open ended questions and parenting cognition questionnaires. 

Results:  The results of the study are categorized into two sections. The first section examines the qualitative perceptions of the impact of a young child with autism on personal and family life while the second section examines the quantitative analysis of the mother’s parenting cognition using the parenting cognition questionnaire.   In the qualitative section, themes of how ASD  affects the family’s whole life, the  lack of understanding from the environment of what ASD is and the affect it has on the family, the inaccessible care giving system due to long waiting lists for services, coping strategies that have been developed by the mothers, and  concerns and questions regarding the future and their parenting.

The quantitative analysis revealed that mothers report a lower sense of self efficacy about parenting their child with ASD than parenting their typically developing child.  The analyses also revealed that mother’s feel more guilt towards the typically developing child than towards the child with ASD.  Higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms were reported with the child with ASD

Conclusion:  In order to develop more supportive interventions it is essential to understand the impact of ASD on the family and personal life through a mother’s perception.  The study verified the substantial impact that ASD has on family and personal life.  Mother’s reported significantly higher levels of stress related to parenting incompetence and role restrictions and more symptoms of depression concerning their child with ASD compared to the typically developing sibling.  Furthermore, mother’s expressed a lower sense of self efficacy.  It was also concluded that maternal stress and depression generalize over children.