Saturday, 23 April 2016

Parents on the autism spectrum and 'parenting efficacy'

There are some aspects of the autism research landscape that make for uncomfortable reading. I've covered a few of them on this blog (see here and see here for example) simply because of my belief that science should not be afraid to ask about and try and answer difficult questions.

I'd place the paper by Winnie Yu Pow Lau and colleagues [1] in that uncomfortable reading zone as a consequence of their findings related to parenting efficacy as a function of parents who themselves have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among other groupings. With one Tony Attwood on the authorship list, results are reported suggesting that whilst "mothers with ASD had comparable levels of parental efficacy to parents without ASD in the family" fathers with an ASD "had the lowest parental efficacy." The authors recommend that further screening and provisions should be put in place "to build fathers parental efficacy" minus any sweeping generalisations from this data. Parenting efficacy by the way, is thought to be a strong predictor of parenting behaviours potentially onwards being related to various offspring outcomes.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, parenting is already a tough job even before any additional issues related to offspring behaviours or diagnoses are added to the mix (see here). Most parents do a good job navigating the various stages of child rearing and would probably have little or no regrets about the way that they eventually did the job. For many parents, to be told about any perceived weaknesses or 'failings' of parenting ability is generally not likely to be taken well considering the amount of time and effort that is devoted to raising a brood. Blood, sweat and tears people...

It is with that sentiment in mind that I tread carefully with the Lau findings whilst at the same time acknowledging that parenting efficacy does perhaps need to be further researched under such circumstances. With the ever-increasing numbers of people being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, it is, by mass action, inevitable that more and more adults with an ASD are going to be raising families of their own. There are some quite high profile examples of parents on the spectrum raising children on or off the spectrum and doing it very well, but one should not assume that every family is fortunate to be the same, particularly when one takes into account individual family circumstances (lone parents, more than one child) and factors such as income and housing among others. The emphasis should rightly be on supporting those families when support is needed [2] whilst not coming across as too 'nanny state' or condescending; keeping in mind that the welfare of children is central to all this.

As a last point, I am going to query the use of the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) in the Lau study as a measure of autistic traits. This instrument may well cover elements of the autism spectrum but (and it is an important 'but') the presence of those traits might not necessarily be exclusive to autism (see here). From that point of view, further research needs to perhaps be a little more thorough about what exactly is being investigated, also understanding that a historical diagnosis of autism might not necessarily be set in stone and that the diagnosis rarely appears in a diagnostic vacuum - both factors that might impact on the stability of parenting efficacy. Indeed, with that last point in mind, the findings reported by Samyra Jogaib Bonatto and colleagues [3] on [self-reported] ADHD symptoms in parents of children with autism, are also deserving of quite a bit more allied scrutiny too.

Music to close, and what else but something that Papa's the world over with have probably heard...


[1] Lau WY. et al. Parents on the autism continuum: Links with parenting efficacy. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2016; 26: 57-64.

[2] Chong WH. & Kua SM. Parenting Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Parents of Children With Autism: Perspectives From Singapore. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2016 Apr 14.

[3] Bonatto SJ. et al. The prevalence of symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Psychiatry Research. 2016. April 5.

---------- Lau, W., Peterson, C., Attwood, T., Garnett, M., & Kelly, A. (2016). Parents on the autism continuum: Links with parenting efficacy Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 26, 57-64 DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2016.02.007