Research Highlights Stress Levels among Parents of Children with Autism

Dr Geraldine Leader
Jun 04 2013 Posted: 16:20 IST

Levels of stress among parents of children with autism are higher when those families have less access to services. Preliminary data from a study by NUI Galway’s Irish Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Research (ICAN) indicates cutbacks in services are having a real and measureable effect on parents’ wellbeing.

“Our research is highlighting the negative impacts that cutbacks and inadequate service provision may have, not only on child outcomes, but also on the health and wellbeing of the parents,” says Dr Geraldine Leader, Director of ICAN at NUI Galway.

A group of 140 mothers, fathers and a control group of caregivers of typically-developing children were included in the study. The research, conducted by PhD student Ciara Foody under the supervision of Dr Geraldine Leader and Professor Jack James, will be presented at a conference in NUI Galway from 11-12 June.

This research investigated stress among parents by using diaries, questionnaires, 24 hour blood pressure monitoring and also conducted an analysis of the stress hormone cortisol.

“We looked for the physical flags of stress, such as high blood pressure”, explains Dr Leader. “Perhaps none too surprisingly, parents of children of autism experience elevated levels of stress compared to parents of typically developing children. However, we were also able to show a correlation between increased stress among parents of children with autism who have less access to services and interventions.”

Preliminary results demonstrate that unmet services needs were a significant factor.  Having a child with a greater number of service needs that were not being met (speech and language therapy, respite services, etc.) was associated with higher maternal blood pressure and higher parental reports of depressive symptoms and parenting stress. 

The study also shows that sleep is also found to be an important factor. Child sleep problems and parental sleep quality were associated with maternal blood pressure, parenting stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The conference from 11-12 June, Autism Spectrum Disorders: From Research to Practice, will feature keynote talks, as well as workshops aimed at providing parents, practitioners, teachers and researchers, with the latest evidence-based approaches to diagnosis, clinical management and adult service provision.

The event is being organised by ICAN in collaboration with the US science and advocacy group Autism Speaks, and runs from 11-12 June. For more information visit


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