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Parents of Children With Autism Report High Stress Levels
Date:7/17/2009

Behavior problems, not additional caretaking, seem to cause the distress

FRIDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- Anyone who has tried to quell a 3-year-old's temper tantrum knows that dealing with small children can be stressful, but add an autism spectrum disorder to the mix and the likelihood of parental stress significantly increases.

But a new study in the July issue of the journal Autism suggests that it's not the additional daily caretaking tasks that add stress, but the behavioral issues common in children with autism.

"Mothers of children with autism reported more parent-related stress and psychological distress," said study author Annette Estes, a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. "I think that parents of kids with autism are resilient in many ways, and it's not the hard work of daily living that's causing the stress. The thing that's most difficult for parents are the problem behaviors."

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects communication and social interaction skills. As many as one in 150 American children have an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Autism Society of America. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, individual children may range from mildly affected to severely affected.

Children with autism may have unusual language or their own communication patterns that can be difficult for others to understand. Some of the possible problem behaviors are: irritability, agitation, crying, social withdrawal, lethargy, hyperactivity and inappropriate speech.

To assess whether it is the daily tasks of living -- such as feeding, dressing, toileting -- or the behavioral issues that drain parents, Estes and her colleagues compared a group of 51 preschool-aged children with autism to a group of 22 age-matched children with other types of developmental delays. Both groups of children require e
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