Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Research Advisor

J. Carolyn Graff, Ph.D.


Michael A. Carter, DNSc Ann K. Cashion, Ph.D. D. Sharon Husch, Ph.D. Teena M. McGuinness, Ph.D. Mona N. Wicks, Ph.D.


Autism Spectrum Disorder, Parental Coping, Parental Stress, Support Networks


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the adaptive behaviors of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their family support networks, parental stress, and parental coping and the relationships among these variables.

Background: Autism is the fastest growing diagnosed developmental disorder. When parents receive a diagnosis of autism for their child, mothers and fathers are affected differently. The costs to families of children with autism are personal, social, and affect family finances and day to day living. Parents of a child with autism are at high risk for increased stress levels. The child’s socially unacceptable behaviors and communication problems contribute to parental stress. Available and accessible support services for children with autism, their caregivers, and families are often inadequate to address the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with autism.

Methods: A descriptive, correlational, cross-sectional study was conducted with a purposive sample of 75 parents/primary caregivers of children with ASD. Parents provided information about the adaptive behaviors of their child with autism, family support networks, parental stress, and parental coping. Pearson product-moment correlation was used to identify the relationships between the variables. Multiple regression analysis was performed to identify which of the independent variables better predicted parental coping patterns.

Findings and Conclusion: The adaptive behaviors of children with autism were negatively correlated with parental behaviors which focused on continuing to seek and use social support, self-respect, and emotional strength. Parents’ views of the support their family received were positively correlated with parental behaviors that concentrated on family adjustment, teamwork, and a positive meaning of the situation. A trend toward significance was found between adaptive behaviors of the child with autism and paternal stress. These results bring new challenges and thoughts about how the children with autism and their families can be assisted. Parents who are coping with the added stresses in their lives need support that addresses the abilities of their child with autism, their own patterns of coping, and the resources available to their family.