Stress among parents of children with and without autism spectrum disorder: a comparison involving physiological indicators and parent self-reports
James, Jack E.
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Padden, Ciara; James, Jack E. (2017). Stress among parents of children with and without autism spectrum disorder: a comparison involving physiological indicators and parent self-reports. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities 29 (4), 567-586
Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have been reported as experiencing higher levels of stress and poorer physical health than parents of typically developing children. However, most of the relevant literature has been based on parental self-reports of stress and health. While research on physiological outcomes has grown in recent years, gaps still exist in our understanding of the physiological effects, if any, of stress related to parenting a child with ASD. The present study compared parent-reported stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as selected physiological measures of stress (i.e., cortisol, alpha-amylase, and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate) between matched groups of parents of children with (N = 38) and without (N = 38) ASD. Participants completed questionnaires, collected saliva samples for the purpose of measuring cortisol and alpha-amylase, and wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor for 24 h. Parents of children with ASD reported significantly higher levels of parental distress, anxiety, and depression than parents of typically developing children. Parent-reported distress, anxiety, depression, and health were not correlated with physiological measures. With the exception that parents of children with ASD had significantly lower cortisol levels 30 min after waking, no other significant group differences were found for physiological measures. Parents of children with ASD reported significantly higher use of a number of adaptive coping strategies (e.g., emotional support) in comparison to parents of typically developing children. Results are discussed in the context of implications for future research directions, stress research, and practical implications for parental support.