Jones, L., Totsika, V., Hastings, R., Petalas, M., Dowey, A & Nash, S. (2011). Psychological well-being of couples with a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Presentation at the Gatlinburg Conference on Research and Theory in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, San Antonio, TX. March 2-4.
As promised, I said that I would share some of the results of the sessions that I attended at the Gatinburg Conference during the month of April- for Autism Awareness Month.
This group is from Wales- and apparently, Wales is a rockin’ place for autism research! They looked at 160 couples who had a child with ASD. Average age of parents were in their mid-40’s and the average age of the child was 10. These are not newly-diagnosed parents- these were parents who had been in the “system” for a while.
I’m sure that it will surprise no one to learn that the the mother’s anxiety and depression was directly related to the child’s level of behavioral problems, level of symptoms, and pro-social behavior. This is what I call “duh” research- but it has to be done in order to “prove” to funding agencies that the reason mothers are stressed out of their minds is because their child is struggling. Sad that it has to be “proved”, but there you are. Good to know that research backs you up, hmmm?
But the really interesting thing about this presentation was the finding that dads were much more likely to have positive perceptions of their children with autism than the mothers. The researchers suggested several reasons for this, including:
- Dads tend to be less focused on the day-to-day situations
- Dads tend to be less involved in the organization of a child’s life
And as a result, dads can take a “bigger picture” approach to their child’s issues.
And here’s another interesting finding: The more positive a dad was, the more positive the mom was– independent of the level of the autism.
The biggest caveat the researchers stated is that these are the dads who have stuck around. They also found that the longer a child had been diagnosed with autism, the happier the marriage was- but they also noted that that’s because they’re measuring marriages that lasted. The unhappy marriages that had autism added to the mix broke up, and thus weren’t in the “happiness” measure later. They very explicitly said that they did not recommend autism as a form of improving your marriage happiness level- there were wry chuckles throughout the audience.
So much of this research falls under “duh” research- but it was interesting to realize how much of my ability to balance my life and hold up under “those” times was dependent on my husband’s ability to make those inane cheerful comments- and to remind me of the good things of the children. While I tend to obsess about details, he looks at things from a broader perspective.
Drives me crazy- but apparently, it makes me happier, too. Thank you, honey.