Skip to main content

The Power of Positivity: Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Abstract

The current study uses the actor-partner interdependence model to examine the predictors of relationship satisfaction for mothers and fathers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Sixty-seven couples completed measures of optimism, benefit finding, coping strategies, social support, and relationship satisfaction. Results indicated that parent’s positive strengths predicted better personal relationship satisfaction. Moreover, parents’ benefit finding, use of emotional support, and perceived social support from their partner also predicted their partner’s relationship satisfaction. The results of this study highlight the importance of focusing on positive factors that can enhance relationship quality. Implications for the development of parent-focused interventions are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  • Assad, K. K., Donnellan, M. B., & Conger, R. D. (2007). Optimism: An enduring resource for romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 285–297. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.93.2.285.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baeza-Velasco, C., Michelon, C., Rattaz, C., Pernon, E., & Baghdadli, A. (2013). Separation of parents raising a children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 25, 613–624. doi:10.1007/s10882-013-9338-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bayat, M. (2007). Evidence of resilience in families of children with autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 51(9), 702–714. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2007.00960.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benson, P. R. (2010). Coping, distress, and well-being in mothers of children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 217–228. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2009.09.008.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benson, P. R., & Kersh, J. (2011). Marital quality and psychological adjustment among mothers of children with ASD: Cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 1675–1685. doi:10.1007/s10803-011-1198-9.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bitsika, V., Sharpley, C. F., & Bell, R. (2013). The buffering effect of resilience upon stress, anxiety and depression in parents of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 25(5), 533–543. doi:10.1007/s10882-013-9333-5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyd, B. A. (2002). Examining the relationship between stress and lack of social support in mothers of children with autism. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 17, 208–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964–980.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, L., & Kashy, D. A. (2002). Estimating actor, partner, and interaction effects for dyadic data using PROC MIXED and HLM: A user-friendly guide. Personal Relationships, 9, 327–342.

  • Carver, C. S. (1997). You want to measure coping but your protocol’s too long: Consider the brief cope. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4(1), 92–100. doi:10.1207/s15327558iijbm0401_6.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carver, C. S., & Antoni, M. H. (2004). Finding benefit in breast cancer during the year after diagnosis predicts better adjustment 5 to 8 years after diagnosis. Health Psychology, 23(6), 595. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.23.6.595.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carver, C. S., & Connor-Smith, J. (2010). Personality and coping. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 679–704. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100352.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 879–889.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267–283.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among children aged 8 years: autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. (MMWR Surveillance Summaries 63(2): 1–22). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6302.pdf

  • Davis, N. O., & Carter, A. S. (2008). Parenting stress in mothers and fathers of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: Associations with child characteristics. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1278–1291. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0512-z.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dehle, C., Larsen, D., & Landers, J. E. (2001). Social support in marriage. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 29, 307–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekas, N. V., Lickenbrock, D. M., & Whitman, T. L. (2010). Optimism, social support, and well-being in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1274–1284. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-0986-y.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Estes, A., Olson, E., Sullivan, K., Greenson, J., Winter, J., Dawson, G., & Munson, J. (2012). Parenting-related stress and psychological distress in mothers of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders. Brain and Development, 35, 133–138. doi:10.1016/j.braindev.2012.10.004.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Faso, D. J., Neal-Beevers, A. R., & Carlson, C. L. (2013). Vicarious futurity, hope, and well-being in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(2), 288–297. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2012.08.014.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Funk, J. L., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). Testing the ruler with item response theory: Increasing precision of measurement for relationship satisfaction with the couples satisfaction index. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(4), 572–583. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.21.4.572.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gau, S. S., Chou, M. C., Chiang, H. L., Lee, J. C., Wong, C. C., Chou, W. J., & Wu, Y. Y. (2012). Parental adjustment, marital relationship, and family function in families of children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 263–270. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2011.05.007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gordon, C. L., & Baucom, D. H. (2009). Examining the individual within marriage: Personal strengths and relationship satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 16, 421–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harper, A., Dyches, T. T., Harper, J., Roper, S. O., & South, M. (2013). Respite care, marital quality, and stress in parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 2604–2616. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1812-0.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartley, S. L., Barker, E. T., Baker, J. K., Seltzer, M. M., & Greenberg, J. S. (2012). Marital satisfaction and life circumstances of grown children with autism across 7 years. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 688–697. doi:10.1037/a0029354.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartley, S. L., Barker, E. T., Seltzer, M. M., Floyd, F., Greenberg, J., Orsmond, G., & Bolt, D. (2010). The relative risk and timing of divorce in families of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 449–457. doi:10.1037/a0019847.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartley, S. L., Barker, E. T., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., & Floyd, F. J. (2011). Marital satisfaction and parenting experiences of mothers and fathers of adolescents and adults with autism. American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 116, 81–95. doi:10.1352/1944-7558-116.1.81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helgeson, V. S., Reynolds, K. A., & Tomich, P. L. (2006). A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 74, 797–816. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.74.5.797.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A., & Cook, W. L. (2006). Dyadic data analysis. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

  • Klausli, J. F., & Owen, M. T. (2011). Exploring actor and partner effects in associations between marriage and parenting for mothers and fathers. Parenting: Science and Practice, 11, 264–279. doi:10.1080/15295192.2011.613723.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Laurenceau, J. P., Barrett, L. F., & Rovine, M. J. (2005). The interpersonal process model of intimacy in marriage: A daily-diary and multilevel modeling approach. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 314–323. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.19.2.314.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, G. K. (2009). Parents of children with high functioning autism: How well do they cope and adjust? Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 21, 93–114. doi:10.1007/s10882-008-9128-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lickenbrock, D. M., Ekas, N. V., & Whitman, T. L. (2011). Feeling good, feeling bad: Influences of child perceptions and marital adjustment on well-being in mothers of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1274–1284.

    Google Scholar 

  • Littman-Ovadia, H., & Nir, D. (2014). Looking forward to tomorrow: The buffering effect of a daily optimism intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9, 122–136. doi:10.1080/17439760.2013.853202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ludlow, A., Skelly, C., & Rohleder, P. (2012). Challenges faced by parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 702–711. doi:10.1177/1359105311422955.

  • Mavandadi, S., Dobkin, R., Mamikonyan, E., Sayers, S., Ten Have, T., & Weintraub, D. (2014). Benefit finding and relationship quality in Parkinson’s Disease: A pilot dyadic analysis of husbands and wives. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(5), 728–734. doi:10.1037/a0037847.

  • Neff, L. A., & Geers, A. L. (2013). Optimistic expectations in early marriage: A resource or vulnerability for adaptive relationship functioning? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 38–60. doi:10.1037/a0032600.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Patrick, S., Sells, J. N., Giordano, F. G., & Tollerud, T. R. (2007). Intimacy, differentiation, and personality variables as predictors of marital satisfaction. The Family Journal, 15, 359–367. doi:10.1177/1066480707303754.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

  • Samios, C., Pakenham, K. I., & Sofronoff, K. (2009). The nature of benefit finding in parents of a child with asperger syndrome. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 358–374. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2008.08.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): A reevaluation of the life orientation test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(6), 1063. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.67.6.1063.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schuster, S. C., Kessler, R. C., & Aseltine, R. H. (1990). Supportive interactions, negative interactions, and depressive mood. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 423–438.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Srivastava, S., McGonigal, K. M., Richards, J. M., Butler, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2006). Optimism in close relationships: How seeing things in a positive light makes them so. Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 91, 143–153. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.91.1.143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stuart, M., & McGrew, J. H. (2009). Caregiver burden after receiving a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 86–97. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2008.04.006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tarakeshwar, N., & Pargament, K. I. (2001). Religious coping in families of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 247–260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weiss, T. (2004). Correlates of posttraumatic growth in husbands of breast cancer survivors. Psycho-Oncology, 13, 260–268. doi:10.1002/pon.735.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whalen, H. R., & Lachman, M. E. (2000). Social support and strain from partner, family, and friends: Costs and benefits for men and women in adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 15–30.

    Google Scholar 

  • Whisman, M. A. (2007). Marital distress and DSM-IV psychiatric disorders in a population-based national survey. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 638–643. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.116.3.638.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the families of the Florida Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities for their time.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Naomi V. Ekas.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ekas, N.V., Timmons, L., Pruitt, M. et al. The Power of Positivity: Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 45, 1997–2007 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2362-4

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2362-4

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Mothers and fathers
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Dyadic data analysis
  • Social support
  • Coping
  • Benefit finding