Parenting preschoolers with autism : socioeconomic influences on wellbeing and sense of competence

Nisha E Mathew, Karen L O Burton, Anne Schierbeek, Rudi Črnčec, Amelia Walter, Valsamma Eapen

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BACKGROUND Previous research suggests that parents raising a child with autism experience higher levels of psychological distress than parents of typically developing children and parents of children with other developmental disorders. Little is known, however, about the intersection between the effects of socioeconomic status (SES) on the wellbeing and sense of parental competency of parents of pre-schoolers with autism and how it relates to child symptom severity. AIM To examine the relationship between their child’s symptom severity, SES, as measured by neighbourhood advantage and occupational status, on the psychological wellbeing and perceived parenting competence among parents of preschoolers with autism. METHODS Parents of 117 preschool-aged children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 107 mothers and 54 fathers, completed questionnaires about their child’s symptoms of ASD and functioning, their own perceptions of their wellbeing and parental competence on entry to an early intervention program in Sydney, Australia. Parents also provided demographic information pertaining to their occupation, level of education attained and address (postcode). All children were also assessed for their severity of symptoms using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. The Australian Socioeconomic Index of occupational status as a measure of familial SES and the Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage as a measure of neighbourhood advantage were used to examine the impact of SES on parental sense of competence and wellbeing. RESULTS Compared to normative populations, both mothers and fathers in our sample reported significantly higher levels of parenting sense of efficacy but lower levels of interest in the parenting role. Mothers also displayed higher levels of satisfaction. Both mothers and fathers displayed higher levels of depression than normative populations with mothers also reporting greater levels of stress and anxiety. Child symptom severity was associated with maternal parenting competency with these relationships amplified among mothers with higher familial SES and who lived in areas of greater neighbourhood advantage. Increased adaptive functioning was associated with better maternal wellbeing, particularly among mothers who lived in areas of greater neighbourhood advantage. Contrastingly, paternal parenting competence was generally not influenced by child adaptive functioning or symptom severity, although for those in higher familial SES brackets, children’s symptom severity and maladaptive symptoms were negatively related to paternal sense of parenting efficacy. There was a trend towards moderate relationships between lower familial SES and greater depression, stress and anxiety among fathers, but no relationship with their child’s ASD symptom severity or functioning. CONCLUSION SES differentially impacts wellbeing and sense of parenting competence and its relationship to the impact of child symptoms for mothers and fathers of preschoolers with autism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-46
Number of pages17
JournalWorld Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


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