Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Alice S. Carter

Second Advisor

Abbey S. Eisenhower

Third Advisor

Laurel Wainwright


Parents of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) report increased levels of marital strain, parenting stress and affective symptoms. Research to date has identified child factors associated with these domains of maternal and paternal distress and well-being. However, most existing studies of parental adaptation to raising a child with ASD have failed to adopt a family system approach to examine the dynamic role of the parental/marital subsystem in family adaptation. This study capitalized on an existing dataset from a longitudinal study of child and family development among children recently diagnosed with ASD between 18-33 months of age and their parents. Families were included in this study if both mothers and fathers participated in at least one of the first two annual assessments (n = 130). The aims of the study were to examine longitudinal inter-relationships between maternal and paternal (a) affective symptoms, (b) parenting stress levels, and (c) marital satisfaction, controlling for the impact of child functioning at baseline. We used the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM) to evaluate how one partner's distress in each of these domains affected the other partner's outcomes a year later. Results analyzing an imputed dataset revealed a pattern of influence from mothers' affective symptoms in the first year to fathers' affective symptoms in the second year, above and beyond stability within each parent's affective symptoms and child functioning. A similar pattern was observed between mothers' parenting stress in year 1 and fathers' parenting stress in year 2, but it was not robust to the impact of child functioning. Finally, although there was within partner stability from year 1 to year 2, no influences were observed between partners in regard to their appraisals of marital satisfaction. These results provide a deepened understanding of inter-couple patterns among parents raising children with ASD, and further highlight potential targets for prevention and intervention to foster parental and overall family well-being.


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