Objective: We assessed associations between parenting a child with autism and stress indicators.
Methods: In the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health, parents or other knowledgeable adult respondents for children aged 4 to 17 years reported their recent feelings about their life sacrifices to care for their child, difficulty caring for their child, frustration with their child's actions, and anger toward their child. Responses were compiled in the Aggravation in Parenting Scale. Parents of children reported to have autism (N = 459) were compared with parents of: (1) children with special health care needs including emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems other than autism that necessitated treatment (children with other developmental problems [N = 4545]); (2) children with special health care needs without developmental problems (N = 11475); and (3) children without special health care needs (N = 61826). Weighted estimates are presented.
Results: Parents of children with autism were more likely to score in the high aggravation range (55%) than parents of children with developmental problems other than autism (44%), parents of children with special health care needs without developmental problems (12%), and parents of children without special health care needs (11%). However, within the autism group, the proportion of parents with high aggravation was 66% for those whose child recently needed special services and 28% for those whose child did not. The parents of children with autism and recent special service needs were substantially more likely to have high aggravation than parents of children with recent special service needs in each of the 3 comparison groups. Conversely, parents of children with autism but without recent special service needs were not more likely to have high aggravation than parents of children with other developmental problems.
Conclusions: Parenting a child with autism with recent special service needs seems to be associated with unique stresses.