Respite Care, Marital Quality, and Stress in Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Author(s): Harper, A., Dyches, T.T., Harper, J., Roper, S.O., and South, M. (2013)

Published In: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43 (11): 2604-2616

Study Aim/Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between receipt of respite care and quality of marriage for couples with a child with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), with wife and husband stress and daily uplifts as potential mediating variables

Summary of Methods: Data were collected from 101 married heterosexual couples of children with ASD who had received respite services. The mothers and fathers were asked to complete questionnaires separately, either via a web link or on paper. The questionnaire collected information in the following areas: 1) characteristics of the parents and children including medical diagnoses (these variables were used as control variables in the analysis); 2) husband and wives perceptions of marriage quality measured by the Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale and the revised Experiences in Close Relationship Questionnaire scales on Anxious and Avoidant Attachment; 3) daily hassles (stressors) and uplifts, as measured by the Hassles and Uplifts Scale; and 4) number of hours of respite care received in a typical week (defined as “planned care for the children with autism to provide relieve to the permanent caregiver”).

Summary of Results: Number of hours of respite care was positively related to improved marital quality for both husband and wives, such that a one hour increase in weekly respite care was associated with a one half standard deviation increase in marital quality. This relationship was significantly mediated by perceived daily stresses (hassles) and uplifts in both husbands and wives. There was also a direct association found between more respite care and increased uplifts and reduced stress; increased uplifts were associated with improved marital quality; and more stress was associated qu with reduced maritalality for both wives and husbands. The authors also found that having more than one child with ASD was associated with greater stress, reduced relationship quality,

Study Limitations: The authors note that the sample and daily uplifts. was not randomly selected. They admit that “participants were volunteers who responded to targeted invitations and may represent a particularly high level of family functioning.” Further, they note that respondents were primarily “Caucasian families from the Intermountain and cultural norms.” West area of the U.S. and thus may not generalize to other geographic areas and cultural norms.”

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions: The authors emphasize their finding that “even a slight increase in the number of hours of respite care has the potential to improve marital quality.” They call for practitioners working with families who have a child with ASD and policymakers to assure these families have access to formal and informal respite care services. The authors also call for future asses research to s whether increasing the number of hours of respite care for couples of children with ASD would actually improve their marital quality and whether it is the quality or the quantity of respite that influences marital quality as well as research to better understand the factors that mediate the impact of respite on marital quality