Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Meredith Mahr-Edmunds, Sharon Green-Hennessy, Ph.D.

Families of Autism: Care-giving Equality, Autism Severity, and Martial Satisfaction

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Autistic disorder is a growing concern within psychological and medical fields worldwide as the diagnosis of autism is on the rise (Fombonne, 2001; 2003a; 2003b; Lui, King, & Bearman, 2010; Rimland, 2000; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2011). Currently, in the United States, about 1 out of 88 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with prevalence rates being similar across countries and cultures (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2012; HHS, 2011). Thus, it is important to understand not only the disorder and the children affected by it, but also how the disorder affects those who care for these children.
Studies consistently report that children with a diagnosis of autism show more severe and a greater amount of behavioral problems than children without a diagnosis of autism (Brobst, Clopton, & Hendrick, 2009; Matson & Nebel-Schwalm, 2007), and these behaviors include those that are difficult for caregivers to cope with and manage (Matson, Mahan, Hess, Fodstad, & Neal, 2010). The overall stress and strain related to caring for a child with autism has been correlated with less marital satisfaction (Brobst et al., 2009; Higgins, Bailey, & Pearce, 2005). Furthermore, mothers have reported that they carry a disproportionate heavy burden of care-giving in comparison to the children’s fathers in families with children diagnosed with autism (Bilgin & Kucuk, 2010). Research has also shown that mothers’ satisfaction with their marriage increased as their spouses participated in more household responsibilities, including childcare (Essex & Hong, 2005). Thus, there may be an association between marital dissatisfaction and inequality of care-giving in families with children who are diagnosed with an ASD.

The proposed study will assess not only actual division of care-giving labor between the parents, but also the parent’s perception of the fairness and choice they had in the labor division arrangement and how that, in turn, is related to autistic symptom severity and marital satisfaction. Participants will be parents of a six to 18 year old child with an ASD who have a partner who resides with them inside the home. Parents of children with an ASD will complete measures including a demographics questionnaire, an autism symptom severity measure, the Relationship Assessment Scale, and an equality in care-giving questionnaire. The final measure will yield a total inequality score, an actual division of labor subscore, and a satisfaction with choice/fairness subscore. The following hypotheses will be tested: 1) there will be a significant association between the child’s autism severity and parental care-giving equality, such that as the child’s autism symptom severity increases, care-giving equality will decrease, 2) controlling for the child’s autism severity, overall care-giving inequality will significantly predict marital satisfaction, such that as parental care-giving equality decreases, marital satisfaction of the child’s parent will also decrease and 3) controlling for child’s autism severity, both actual reported division of labor and reported satisfaction with choice/fairness of division of labor will both significantly predict reported marital satisfaction.