29 Aug

Dads’ parenting of children with autism improves moms’ mental health

Mothers of children with autism often experience higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety than other mothers. A research study showed that greater involvement of fathers in caring for their children with autism can boost mothers’ mood and reduce their stress.

Fathers who read to their children, or respond when the child cries, can give the mothers respite, enabling mothers to perform other tasks or engage in self-care activities that boost their mood and reduce stress.

An important area in which father can play a critical role is in helping improve the children’s communication skills, a deficit area affecting most children with autism. Activities such as reading to their kids, telling stories or singing songs are going to be very beneficial for the child’s development of communication skills and learning words.

Prior research and work by early interventionists have focused solely on mothers’ parenting of their children with autism, reflecting societal expectations that fathers are less involved, said Brent A. McBride, a professor of human development and director of the Child Development Laboratory at Illinois and a co-author of the research study.

"In family systems that include children with autism, the stressors are huge, and mothers need all the support they can grasp," McBride said. "Whether it comes from the child’s father, their social network or online resources, mothers need additional support to be able to continue functioning in an effective way. We, as a society, have to ask men to become involved, and it’s very important that men fully understand the reasons why their support and active engagement in parenting is so critical for the family’s functioning and for the child."

A caveat was suggested by the study authors in that differing perspectives of fathers and mothers could produce conflicting parenting styles. This possibility calls for fathers and mothers taking time to recognize areas of difference, discuss and accommodate those differences, in order to reach decisions that affect their interactions with the children in a consistent manner.

The families in the study were participants in the National Center for Education Statistics Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, which collected data on more than 14,000 children’s development at the ages of 9 months, 2 and 4 years.

The study sample was restricted to families in which both biological parents resided with the child for their first four years to ensure that the father’s presence could influence the mother’s depressive symptoms.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Dads’ parenting of children with autism improves moms’ mental health: Fathers’ engagement in literacy, caregiving activities reduces mothers’ depression, stress." Science Daily, 14 July 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150714131600.htm>.

Journal reference: Daniel J. Laxman, Brent A. McBride, Laurie M. Jeans, W. Justin Dyer, Rosa M. Santos, Justin L. Kern, Niwako Sugimura, Sarah L. Curtiss, Jenna M. Weglarz-Ward. Father Involvement and Maternal Depressive Symptoms in Families of Children with Disabilities or Delays. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 2014; 19 (5): 1078

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