Parental Burnout in Mother and Fathers of Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Objective: This project aimed to identify if and how experiences and functioning differ for mothers and fathers of typically developing (TD) children and mothers and fathers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary focus is on parental burnout and associated mental health problems, parenting behaviors, and child behavior problems. An exploratory aim examined the differences in parental resilience. Method: The sample was comprised of 185 parents of children with and without ASD ages 4 and 16 years. Parents self-reported on measures of psychological functioning, parental burnout, behaviors, and resilience, and child behaviors. Results: The ASD group was found to have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and all types of parental burnout. Fathers in the ASD group reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout than mothers. No differences were found between mothers and fathers or between groups in level of acceptance, but group and gender differences were found in use of psychological and firm control. Fathers in both groups reported lower levels of resilience related to knowledge of their child's characteristics relative to mothers. Fathers in the ASD group also reported lower levels of social support than mothers in the ASD group and fathers in the TD group. However, no differences were found between groups or between mothers and fathers in positive perception of parenting. Conclusions: This study sheds light on how parents' experiences of children with and without ASD differed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the high percentage of parents of children with ASD who reported parental burnout, it is essential for clinicians to assess parents' level of functioning and feelings related to their parenting role. This study also suggest that fathers are struggling more psychologically and are more severely burned out than mothers, which highlights the importance of the inclusion of fathers in both research and clinical services.