Support Groups for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Predictors and Effects of Involvement
autism spectrum disorders , parents , support groups , autism
Support groups are an effective source of support in a number of populations (e.g., Beaudoin & Tao, 2007; Preyde & Ardal, 2003; Singer, et al., 1999). Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a particularly stressed group who can benefit from support (Blacher & McIntyre, 2006). These studies investigated: 1) predictors of participation in support groups for parents of children with ASD and 2) the effects of participation in an online support group for these parents. One hundred seventy-eight parents completed a series of online questionnaires measuring their beliefs about support groups and ASD, coping style, social support, mood, parenting stress, and their child’s autistic symptoms and daily functioning. Parents who were currently using parent support groups (PSGs) reported using more adaptive coping strategies than both parents who had never used PSGs and parents who had used PSGs in the past. Parents who had used PSGs in the past reported that they did not find the groups as beneficial as parents who were currently using them, and parents who had never participated in PSGs reported several issues with accessibility that made it difficult to participate in PSGs. A smaller group of parents (n = 36), who had participated in the first study, participated in an online support group designed for this study. An additional group of parents (n = 25), who had also completed the first study, served as a no-treatment control group. The parents in these two groups completed a subset of the questionnaires used in the first study following the 4-month support group, so that changes in mood, anxiety, parenting stress, and positive perceptions could be documented over time. No significant differences between the groups and across time were found. However, parents who participated in the group reported being satisfied with the support they received and finding the group helpful. Overall, the results of these studies suggest that interventions for parents of children with ASD need to be individualized and focused on the needs of the parents. Further research is required to investigate the efficacy of online support groups for parents of children with ASD.