It's difficult to raise children who have autism. Scientists have found mothers of autistic children have higher parenting stress and psychological distress as a result. Raising a preschooler isn't easy, but it is much worse when a child has autism.
Researchers at the University of Washington’s Autism Center examined 73 mothers and their children with autism and compared them with parents without autism. What they found is what stresses the mothers is not the hard work involved in raising the children but the fact children with autism have significantly higher levels of problem behaviors that include irritability, crying, inappropriate language and difficulty following directions.“
The children in the stress study were mostly white males approximately 3½ years old when data was collected.
Researchers a research study found psychological stress, not psychiatric disorders in mothers of children with autism. This has to do with the significant difficulties in parenting and raising children who have special needs.
Researchers conducted surveys measuring parenting stress, psychological distress, problem behaviors and adaptive functioning level. Others looked at a child’s daily living skills in such areas as dressing, feeding, using the toilet, bathing and helping with household chores. The findings revealed the psychological pressures and stresses faced by those who raise children with special needs, specifically autistic children.
Annette Estes, lead author of a new study and associate director of the UW Autism Center, said “We were not diagnosing disorders and our sample of parents likely did not include the most distressed parents, those who did not have the resources to take the time to participate in a research study or those who were probably too busy and stressed raising a disabled child to participate.
Estes observed problem behavior needs to be a special focus in treating children with autism and developmental delay because it has the potential to disrupt the family as well as the child. It may not be a core element of autism, but if it causes disruptions and problems with adaptive functioning of the family, then it needs to be dealt with. Furthermore she maintains it is important to help families because high levels of stress and distress can impact early identification of autism and interventions that might be successfully used to treat the issues.
Research has also found that parents of children with autism have greater levels of stress than parents of children with developmental delays, Down syndrome or mental retardation. Those who work with autistic children believe it may have to do with the communication problems that makes it difficult for parents to determine what the autistic child wants or needs so they are often left guessing at what to do.
The stresses of dealing with autistic children have been known for some time, however they have been highlighted specifically as the rate of those diagnosed with the disorder has increased. Autistic children put financial and social challenges on families, which contributes to the high divorce rate.
All of this points to the need for emotional and psychological support for families and early diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.