Child behaviour problems and partner mental health as correlates of stress in mothers and fathers of children with autism.

BACKGROUND: Previous research has suggested that the mothers and fathers of children with disabilities experience stress differently. Although there has been a great deal of research exploring how children affect parents, there have been many fewer studies of the interrelationships between mothers’ and fathers’ psychological well-being.

METHODS: Eighteen married couples who were the parents of children with autism reported on their stress and their general mental health (i.e. anxiety and depression). Teachers rated the behaviour problems of the children with autism.

RESULTS: Mothers and fathers did not differ in their levels of stress and depression, but mothers reported more anxiety than fathers. Partial correlation analyses revealed that child behaviour problems and fathers’ mental health were associated with mothers’ stress. However, neither child behaviour problems or mothers’ mental health was associated with fathers’ stress.

CONCLUSIONS: Although requiring replication, the results suggest that stress in mothers of children with disabilities may be affected by the psychological health of other family members, whereas fathers’ stress is affected more by other factors. Methodological and conceptual issues, and the practical implications of these results are discussed.