- Lecavalier, S. Leone & J.Wiltz
Reviewed by: Aubrey Apel
The article began with a statement about stresses, including financial burdens and restrictions in social activities, experienced by parents of children with ASD. Similar to an article previously discussed in this PD session, this article stated that parents of children with ASD tend to experience more stress than parents of children with other disabilities. Not surprisingly, the severity of autism is “positively associated with parental stress.” The major factor associated with stress was behavior problems; the article stated that the relationship between behavior issues and parental stress has “received little attention” in regards to the ASD population.
Similarly, the article addressed teacher stress associated with students with ASD. Apparently little to no research has been completed to address these relationships either. This was surprising to me, but maybe because that has been the focus of our article review thus far. My only speculation is that perhaps the majority of research has been focused on the children themselves and not the individuals with whom they interact. As a school-based speech language pathologist, this seems crazy to me as I feel like I am constantly considering the child’s environment, especially those individuals around them, when planning therapy.
In the article, a study was referenced, which included children with ASD, that stated emotional exhaustion was found among teachers and teaching assistants who worked in special education schools. Approximately 20-40% of regular education teachers report teaching as a “highly stressful” profession. Well, of course! I wish other professionals would read articles like these. Maybe the statistics would highlight the stresses of working with these children and they would realize why teachers need a summer break! Can you imagine what the numbers may look like if they took a poll among special education teachers and related services providers?
The aim of the article was to examine relationships of children with ASD on parents AND teachers. The article claimed, to the best of their knowledge, that this was the first study to include both parents and teachers. They predicted, based on other research studies found, that behavior, as opposed to level of functioning, would be the biggest stressor on these adults.
Interesting study facts: Participants included parents and teachers of 293 adolescents with ASD (83% male, 93% Caucasian); 86% of parent ratings were provided by mothers; IEP identified disabilities: 69% autism, 12% preschooler with a disability, 12% other (OHI, multiple disabilities, 8% missing information; Average age of parents 39.9 years; 48% of parents were college graduates; Average age of teachers 37.5; average teaching experience was 10.2 years
The parents completed “The Parental Stress Index-short Form, which rated items from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. The teachers completed “The index of teaching stress”, in which they rated 90 items on a five-point scale from ‘never distressing’ to ‘very distressing’. It was interesting to see examples of items included in the teacher rating scale. The examples given were as follows: “This child does things that bother me a great deal”; “Having this student in my class is frustrating”; “I do not enjoy teaching this child.”
The article referenced another study in which the “Nisonger Child Behavior Rating Form” was used in 37 school districts across Ohio. The goal of this project was to “identify variables associated with successful school models for students with ASD.” I thought this was an interesting study to include, because not only are the authors considering the effects on parents and teachers, but they are also examining them in relation to the school setting. Different packets, for teachers and parents, were mailed to the schools. However, the parent and teacher rating scales contained 85% common items. Interesting findings from the school-based study: For the parents- Parental age, education level, familiarity with ABA and ASDs, child’s gender and chronological age were not statically associated with stress. The most statistically significant findings were that of conduct problems on parents stress. For the teachers- teacher’s age, years of experience, length of time they knew the student, and familiarity with ABA, and child’s gender were not associated with stress levels, However, familiarity with ASDs and chronological age was associated with stress for the teachers. Similar to the parental findings, the most statistically significant correlations was find in the ‘conduct’ area.
In conclusion, these studies show that parent and teacher ratings indicate a clear association between behavior problems in children with ASD and stress levels. Therefore, their original hypothesis was supported. The findings indicate that although these individuals do not always agree on the absolute presence or severity of behaviors, overall, behavior problems are the main sources of stress for parents and teachers caring for children with ASD.