Stress study suggests parent training has benefits for caregivers as well as their kids

December 2, 2020
Stress study of autism parents suggest parent training has benefits for caregivers as well as their kids

A study published in November points to a need for interventions that incorporate parent training to help support their child’s development, based on higher stress levels reported by parents of children with autism than parents of children with language delays.

“This study provides crucial support for parent involvement in whole-family interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder,” said Thomas W. Frazier, Ph.D., chief science officer at Autism Speaks. “Parents need help to be better able to respond to their child’s behavioral challenges in a way that supports learning emotional regulation skills and addresses the well-being of the child and family.”

In this study, published in the journal Autism and Developmental Language Impairments, parents of children ages 2 to 6 years old took a survey about their stress levels. The survey included a profile of their children with details about their child’s behaviors and sensory needs. 

Researchers compared the responses of two groups: those whose children were either diagnosed with autism or at risk for autism, and parents of children with specific language impairment. By comparing children with language disorders, the researchers looked at stress differences that may be specific to autism, which causes both communication and behavioral challenges.

Parents with a child who was diagnosed with ASD reported feeling significantly more stressed due to their child’s difficulties with a range of executive function challenges. These include impulsivity, focus, responses to sensory input and emotional control. 

Parent stress was linked to their abilities to respond to difficult behaviors reported in the survey, such as aggression and poor emotional control. These parents also reported feeling a lack of control. 

Building on previous research that found training parents how to respond during play-based treatments improved children’s learning, the researchers in the parent stress study concluded that parent involvement in treatment could have added benefits.

“Parents and caregivers for children with autism and related challenges are essential members of the care team,” said Dr. Frazier. “Future research should continue to explore treatments that involve parents or caregivers in the process to ensure their autistic loved ones get the unique supports they need and improve the whole family’s well-being.”

For more behavior treatment resources, download the ATN/AIR-P Parent’s Guide to Autism Behavioral Health Treatments.

You might also like this excerpt on Caring for the Caregiver from our 100 Day Kit for Families of Newly Diagnosed Young Children, or visit for additional resources.