Date of Award

5-10-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Diana L. Robins, PhD

Second Advisor

Erin C. Tully, PhD

Third Advisor

Lauren B. Adamson, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Wing Yi Chan, PhD

Abstract

Parents who are rearing a child with a developmental disability have higher stress than parents raising typically developing children. Protective factors, such as optimism and social support, are associated with psychological well-being among parents of children with and without disabilities. However, little is known about when this pattern of elevated stress among parents with developmental disabilities emerges; associations between parents’ level of stress and resilience prior to their child’s initial diagnostic evaluation has yet to be thoroughly researched. Resourcefulness refers both to internal processes to handle stress and external help-seeking behaviors that contribute to resilience. It is related to psychological adjustment in adults, but it has never been examined among parents whose children demonstrate risk for developmental disability prior to a clinical evaluation. This study utilizes a strengths-based approach to investigate how parents’ resourcefulness relates to child functioning and parent stress during the time leading up to an evaluation. The sample included 119 parents of toddlers at-risk for autism spectrum disorder and other developmental delays who were referred for diagnostic evaluation. Parents completed the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen, Kamarch, & Mermelstein, 1983) and Resourcefulness Scale (Zauszniewski, Lai, & Tithiphontumrong, 2006). Diagnostic outcomes included autism spectrum disorder (n=37), language disorder and other developmental delays (n=55), and no diagnosis (n = 27). Specifically, moderation analyses were conducted to examine whether resourcefulness moderates the relation between child functioning (i.e., adaptive behavior, autism symptom severity) and parents’ stress, as well as to assess whether child’s diagnostic outcome moderated the relation between parents’ resourcefulness and stress. Results indicated a significant moderating effect of resourcefulness on the relation between children’s autism symptom severity and parents’ stress, such that among parents with low levels of resourcefulness, high severity of autism symptoms was associated with high stress. Clinical implications, including future screening to detect parents who might be at risk for elevated stress and poor mental health functioning following diagnosis of their child’s developmental disability, are discussed, as well as considerations for parent-directed stress management interventions. Limitations regarding study methodology are also explored.

Available for download on Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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