There is a body of literature looking at parental stress for parents of children with disabilities, but the researchers in this Canadian study were interested in looking specifically at a comparison of parental stress for parents of children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and those with children with autism spectrum disorder. They reported the findings of their study in two linked articles, which we summarise here.
The first looked at the quantitative findings. What they did here was asked 25 parents of children with ASD and 25 parents of children with FASD to complete two questionnaires
- The ‘Parenting Stress Index – Short Form’ (PSI-SF) is a 36 item tool which aims to give a total stress score from three scales: Parental Distress, Parent-Child Dysfunctional Interaction, and Difficult Child.
- The ‘Questionnaire on Resources and Stress – Friedrich’s Version’ (QRS-F) measures levels of distress associated with having a child with a learning disability or chronic illness in the family,
What they found was that both parent groups reported elevated stress, but that the parenting stress index scores suggested that parents of children with foetal alcohol syndrome were experiencing significantly more stress than parents of children with ASD.
In addition to the use of the questionnaires, they also carried out a number of in-depth qualitative interviews employing basic interpretative approach.
What they found from these was that both sets of parents described similar stressors, – multi-tasking, dealing with the diagnostic process, dealing with behavioural issues. However, parents of children with foetal alcohol disorder reported focusing on their children’s illegal behaviours, but parents of children with autism spectrum disorder described their struggles with their children’s tantrums and anxieties.
The authors suggest that this is the first published study of a comparison of the stresses facing parents of children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and those of children with autism spectrum disorder. They suggest that their findings show important differences and that there is a need for further mixed methods research including the subjective experience of parents’ stress and that given these differences, future supports need to be tailored to meet specific needs of these parents.
Autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Part I: A comparison of parenting stress, Watson S et al., in Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability 38, 2 , 95-104
Autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Part II: A qualitative comparison of parenting stress, Watson S et al., in Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability 38, 2 , 105-113