Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were shown to experience more stress than parents of typically developing peers, although little is known about risk factors predicting stress in this population. The aim of this study was to evaluate parental stress levels and behavioral and emotional problems in a sample of preschool children with ASD as compared to typically developing (TD) peers and to investigate the role of several factors, including the severity of autistic symptoms, adaptive skills, cognitive abilities and behavioral and emotional problems, on parental stress. Results confirmed that parents of children with ASD experience higher stress levels than parents of TD and that children with ASD show more behavioral and emotional problems than controls. Moreover, our results showed that behavioral and emotional problems are strong predictors of parental stress, while stress related to a parent-child dysfunctional relationship was associated with daily living and communication skills as well as cognitive abilities. Findings revealed different behavioral and emotional problems affecting parental stress in ASD and TD samples. No association between the severity of autism symptoms and parental stress was detected. These results suggest that dysfunctional behaviors in preschool children with ASD have a strong impact on parental stress, profoundly affecting the well-being of the entire family. Therefore, strategies aimed at the early detection and management of these behavioral and emotional problems are crucial in order to prevent parental stress and to develop the most appropriate treatment interventions.
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Parental stress
- Behavioral and emotional problems