, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 565-576

Parent and professional evaluations of family stress associated with characteristics of autism

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This study assessed the impact of various individual symptoms of autism on mothers and fat hers, and professionals' accuracy in estimating parents' perceived stress levels. Mothers and fathers of 20 autistic children, and 20 therapists working with those children, independently rated the severity of common symptoms of autism in their child, and how stressful they found each symptom; therapists estimated parental stress. The autistic child's language and cognitive impairment were judged by all raters as most severe and stressful. In contrast with other studies, individual parents agreed on both symptom severity and degree of stress. Parents of older children judged symptom severity to be lower, but fathers reported a continued high level of stress. Professionals judged families as more stressed by the child symptoms than did families themselves. Implications for intervention and casework are discussed.

We wish to express our thanks to the parents of the children and the staff of the Geneva Centre for their cooperation in this project, and to Carolyn Lennox, Martha Leary, and Julie Mayerovitch for their input at various stages.