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Parents and Children with Autism: Forming the Bond

Parenting, while hugely rewarding, is undoubtedly one of the most stressful things a person can embark on in their lives. But when you talk to most parents, they will often argue that for all of the headaches, the drama, and the tough times, they wouldn’t trade the time they spent raising their children for anything in the world.


When looking at parents raising children with Autism, it is no secret that their path is one that is much more fraught with issues and stress than parents of neurotypical children, but at the end of the day, they love their children and also wouldn’t trade anything for the experience of raising them. However, a new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Maryland has taken a closer look at the pressure parents of children with Autism must face as well as the individual factors that help moms and dads strengthen their bonds with their children and each other.


In conducting the study, the researchers looked at the impact of particular individual traits—including optimism, social and spousal support, benefit finding, and coping style—on the relationship satisfaction of parents who have children with ASD.


In short, the researchers found that each of the above traits were positively associated with increased relationship satisfaction. However, they also found that when seeking emotional support, spousal support, and benefit finding—the ability to find the good in a bad situation—tended to affect both mothers and fathers, making it the first time a study has demonstrated that the effects of positive traits in parents with children with ASD extend to parents’ romantic relationships.


“In our day-to-day work with families of children with Autism, we have been struck by the strength of the parents and the strength of the marital bonds of many families,” said Michael Alessandri, executive director of the UM Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. “Instead of perpetuating the ‘doom and gloom’ model of Autism’s effect on the family, we sought to look at families through a more optimistic lens.”


As such, the trait of optimism was found to be associated with positive outcomes within the individual, but did not necessarily predict the satisfaction of one’s partner.


The study looked at 67 couples who are currently parents of a child with ASD and who answered questionnaires that sought to measure the impact of the five individual traits within the context of a satisfying relationship.


“We see, in our direct contact with the families of children with ASD, that many are coping well, siblings are adjusting, and marriages are thriving,” said Alessandri. “We want to highlight the reasons why those families do well,” he said. “After all, it is the positive outcomes that will truly inform our clinical work and help shape more impactful treatments for families.”


Some of the study’s key findings included that an individual’s own strength predicted their increased level of relationship satisfaction and that fathers as well as mothers did not differ in reported partner support, optimism, or relationship satisfaction. Going forward, the study’s authors hope that by identifying and strengthening the qualities identified in this study, it can help in improving the mental state of all members in a family.