Date of Award

10-2-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

L. Juane Heflin, Ph.D. - Chair

Second Advisor

Nicole Patton-Terry, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Daphne Greenberg, Ph. D.

Fourth Advisor

Kristine Jolivette, Ph.D.

Abstract

ABSTRACT STRESS FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS: EFFECTS OF AGE, GENDER, AND INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT by Kristen Louise Hess Researchers previously have found that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) experience higher levels of stress and anxiety than individuals who are typically developing and than those with other disabilities. The purpose of this study was to identify the nature and degree of stress reported for individuals with ASD, with particular attention to the effects of age, gender, and intelligence quotient (IQ). Stressful events were identified by the Stress Survey Schedule for Persons with Autism and Other Developmental Delays (SSS), the only tool developed specifically to measure perceived stress in individuals with ASD. Clinicians or parents completed the SSS for 313 individuals ages 3-41 with an ASD diagnosis in east and west coast diagnostic and treatment facilities. Multiple regression equations and multivariate analyses of variance were conducted to explore relationships between scores on the SSS and their age, gender, and IQ. Analysis of the results revealed that two types of stress, Changes and Threats (R2=.07) and Unpleasant Events (R2=.05), were the greatest overall stressors for these individuals. Age, gender, and IQ correlated significantly with stressors measured in the scales related to Sensory/Personal Contact (F(3, 309) = 9.17, p < .01), Anticipation/Uncertainty (F(3, 309) = 3.08, p < .05), Food-Related Activity (F(3, 309) = 3.21, p < .05), and Unpleasant Events (F(3, 309) = 2.36, p < .10). Significant differences were found with regard to age as a unitary construct and age by IQ. Results suggest that younger individuals with ASD may experience more stress than their older counterparts. Although higher levels of stress were reported for males across all eight scales, gender was determined to have a significant main effect only with Pleasant Events (F(1, 135) = 4.20, p < .05). On six of the eight scales, individuals with lower IQ scores were reported to be more stressed and analysis reflected significance for IQ on Changes and Threats (F(1, 294) = 3.85, p < .05) and Unpleasant Events (F(1, 294) = 5.71, p < .05). Normative scores for all scales by age, gender, and IQ were reported. This study was the first to examine individual factors mediating the experience of stress for a large group of individuals with ASD. It also extends the line of research using the SSS, which will aid professionals when developing instructional, behavioral, and medical interventions.

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