Predictors of Better Health Outcomes of Mothers of Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Hutchinson, Paula S.
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Caring for children with autism place mothers at high risk for poor health outcomes and compromises the health of all family members (e.g., Bristol, 1987; Hastings et al., 2005a). Although poor outcomes prevail, some mothers do well despite their caregiving challenges. While ample research exists on mothers’ supports and stress, virtually nothing is known about their strengths. Emerging research suggests that parental self-efficacy and empowerment may contribute to better outcomes in mothers of children with autism. The purpose of the present study was to identify predictors of better outcomes in mothers of children with autism. Relationships among child disruptive behaviour, supports, self-efficacy, empowerment, maternal distress and positive perceptions of parenting were examined using a postal survey design. Mothers (N = 114) of school-age children with autism provided demographic information and completed various scales (i.e., the Developmental Behaviour Checklist, Family Support, Difficult Behaviour Self-Efficacy, Family Empowerment, Hospital Anxiety and Depression, Positive Contribution). Overall, 35% of the variance was explained in maternal distress (i.e., anxiety and depression). After accounting for mothers’ age and child disruptive behaviour, support and empowerment were subsumed by parental self-efficacy in predicting lower levels of maternal distress. Collectively, 17% of the variance was explained in mothers’ positive perceptions of parenting. Self-efficacy partially mediated the moderate effect of disruptive behaviour on mothers’ distress and fully mediated the small effect of disruptive behaviour on mothers’ positive perceptions of parenting. Thus, parental self-efficacy for managing children’s difficult behaviour is very promising for preserving mothers’ health. While discussion focuses on outstanding issues to be addressed, the findings suggest that tailoring formal services to enhance parental efficacy, rather than providing support and consultation services alone, would be more in line with mothers’ needs and possibly improve both children’s and families’ outcomes.