Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 24, Issue 7, pp 2038–2045 | Cite as

Empowerment and Parent Gain as Mediators and Moderators of Distress in Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Jonathan A. Weiss
  • Jennifer A. MacMullin
  • Yona Lunsky
Original Paper


Mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience considerable amounts of distress and experiences of crisis. The Family Adjustment and Adaptation Response model provides a theory for understanding the experience of distress and crisis in families, and the purpose of the present study was to examine experiences of distress in mothers of individuals with ASD using this framework. We specifically investigated how parent empowerment and positive gain were related to their experiences of distress, whether as mediators or as moderators of child aggression. Participants included 156 mothers of children with ASD ranging in age from 4 to 21 years. Mothers completed an online survey of demographics, problem behaviors, family empowerment, positive gain, and distress. We conducted path analyses of multiple mediation and moderation. Results indicated that greater child problem behavior was related to less parent empowerment, which was related to greater maternal distress, supporting empowerment as a partial mediator. At the same time, greater child aggression was not related to maternal distress in mothers who report high rates of positive gain, suggesting that parent gain functions as a moderator. The implications for how and when clinicians intervene with families of children with ASD are discussed.


Empowerment Positive gain Autism spectrum disorder Mothers Distress Stress 



Dr. Weiss was supported by the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research (Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with NeuroDevNet, Sinneave Family Foundation, CASDA, Autism Speaks Canada and Health Canada), Spectrum of Hope Autism Foundation, and by a New Investigator Fellowship from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation. The authors wish to thank the many families who have participated in this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan A. Weiss
    • 1
  • Jennifer A. MacMullin
    • 1
  • Yona Lunsky
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Dual Diagnosis ProgramCentre for Addiction and Mental HealthTorontoCanada

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