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Parenting Stress, Salivary Biomarkers, and Ambulatory Blood Pressure: A Comparison Between Mothers and Fathers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Abstract

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may experience higher levels of stress and health problems than parents of children with typical development. However, most research has focused on mothers, with emphasis on parent-reported stress and wellbeing. This study compared parenting responsibility, distress, anxiety, depression, cortisol, alpha-amylase, and cardiovascular activity between 19 mother–father dyads of children with ASD. Mothers reported higher parenting responsibility, distress, anxiety, and depression than fathers, while fathers had higher blood pressure and heart rate variability. Mothers and fathers had lower than average morning cortisol levels, suggesting stress effects on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal-axis. Parents of children with ASD may benefit from routine health screening (particularly adrenal and cardiovascular function) and referral for stress reduction interventions or supports.

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Correspondence to Jack E. James.

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The research was conducted by the first author under the supervision of the second and third authors in partial fulfilment of the requirements for her PhD in Applied Behaviour Analysis at NUI, Galway.

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Foody, C., James, J.E. & Leader, G. Parenting Stress, Salivary Biomarkers, and Ambulatory Blood Pressure: A Comparison Between Mothers and Fathers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 45, 1084–1095 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2263-y

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Parent stress
  • Cortisol
  • Alpha-amylase
  • Ambulatory blood pressure