Parents of children with autism may be at greater risk for PTSD

Posted 4 years ago by Rebecca St Clair
8.6 percent of the sample group met the criteria for a provisional diagnosis of PTSD. (Source: Shutterstock)
8.6 percent of the sample group met the criteria for a provisional diagnosis of PTSD. (Source: Shutterstock)

As a result of caring for their child nearly 1 in 5 parents of children living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who participated in a recent study had enough symptoms to qualify for a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Published in the Autism Spectrum Disorders journalresearchers looked at the experiences of 395 parents of children aged between 5 and 20 years old and living in Australia. 

It found that in parents whose children had autism, 18.6 percent of the sample group met the criteria for a provisional diagnosis of PTSD.

Parents at greater risk were those whose children displayed ‘challenging behaviours’ which are behaviours that are not socially acceptable including self-harm and physical aggression. 

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Participants in the research study completed an online questionnaire about their children’s behaviour, traumatic stressors, and a checklist used to assess symptoms of PTSD.

The checklist used in the diagnosis of PTSD is from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5). The criteria in this manual help guide health professionals with the assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders.  

None of the parents of typically-developing children, those who meet the standard developmental milestones, met the clinical threshold for PTSD.

Chief Executive Officer of autism peak body Amaze, Fiona Sharkie says that parents need to receive support when raising children with autism to make sure that “parents know they are not alone”.

“It’s vital that parents receive evidence-based advice and referral to quality supports to enable them to perform their caring role with confidence,” she adds. 

Parents in the study shared that they faced challenges around the uncertainty of a cause, cure and prognosis, challenged communication and attachment, unmet service needs, low levels of perceived family and community support and understanding, and low confidence in their ability to manage their child’s condition. 

Ms Sharkie says, “More than half of autistic Australians and their families experience significant social isolation, with 40 percent revealing they sometimes struggle to leave the house because they’re concerned about being subjected to discriminatory or negative behaviours in the community and lack of autism friendly environments.”

She added that education and developing an understanding community will mean people become less judgemental. 

Ninety-six percent of the research sample group were mothers which researchers say means the results may “not be applicable to fathers” as males and females can show different traumatic stress responses. 

Researchers recommended health professionals screen parents for PTSD when potentially traumatic challenging behaviours are present in children with autism.

For more information about autism you can visit the autism resources page