Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 260–270 | Cite as

Distress and Psychological Growth in Parenting an Adult Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Aggression

  • Linda Swaab
  • Lynne McCormackEmail author
  • Linda E. Campbell


Parenting an adult child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who has intermittent outbursts of aggression may expose parents and other family members to potential physical threat and psychological distress including chronic hypervigilance. However, no known studies have explored the ‘lived’ experience of parenting an adult child diagnosed with ASD who displays aggression. Therefore, this phenomenological study sought both negative and positive subjective interpretations of three parents of adult sons with ASD (aged between 20 and 30) displaying intermittent and unpredictable aggressive behaviours. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews, transcribed and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). One main theme emerged: Complex parental distress and growth overarching six subordinate themes. Themes describe the psychological and emotional unpredictability that was relentless in daily life whilst parenting a child diagnosed with ASD complicated by outbursts of aggressive behaviour. Anticipation of potentially traumatic events was expressed as constant. The powerful emotions of frustration, empathy, pity and an intense need to protect the child with ASD who displays aggression were in contrast with felt stigma and societal criticism. In time, they developed their own pragmatic survival strategies for functioning as a family that could accommodate each family member’s needs as much as possible. Psychological well-being became a balance of striving for personal psychological growth despite the constancy of anticipatory traumatic events. Future research and implications are discussed.


Autism spectrum disorder ASD Aggression IPA Psychological distress Psychological growth 



The authors would like to thank the participants for their generous contribution to this research project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


No funding was required or given for this study.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Psychology, Faculty of Science and ITUniversity of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia

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