Factors associated with fatigue in mothers and fathers of children with autism spectrum disorder
Fatigue is detrimental to parental health and parenting efficacy, and there is reason to believe that it is especially problematic for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, fatigue research often focuses on understanding fatigue in mothers of typically developing infants. Furthermore, the existing research generally is conducted without a theoretical model and focused on understanding parental correlates of fatigue, despite evidence that child-based correlates (e.g., child behaviours) are also important. This study examined child and parental factors associated with fatigue in parents of children with ASD by using the Middle-Range Theory of Unpleasant Symptoms (TOUS) model. The research was designed to 1) extend our understanding of fatigue in parents of children with ASD by investigating fatigue in both mothers and fathers, 2) identify and examine the associations between fatigue and psychological, physiological, parental situational, and child-based situational factors and 3), extend our understanding of the relationship between fatigue and parenting variables such as parenting self-efficacy and parenting satisfaction.
Mothers (N = 78) and fathers (N = 34) of children with ASD aged 2-12 years were recruited from across Canada. Participants completed an on-line questionnaire battery assessing levels of fatigue as well as psychological factors (i.e., depressive, anxious, and stress symptoms; perceived caregiver burden), physiological factors (i.e., general health, sleep quality), parental situational factors (i.e., social support, martial satisfaction), child situational factors (i.e., child sleep quality, child behavioural problems), and parental cognitions (i.e., parental self-efficacy, parenting satisfaction).
Parents reported similar levels of fatigue regardless of child age. Fathers reported lower levels of fatigue than mothers. Psychological factors predicted fatigue in both mothers and fathers. (i.e., depressive, anxious, and stress symptoms; perceived caregiver burden). However, child situational factors (i.e., child sleep quality, child behavioural problems) predicted fatigue only in mothers, while employment status predicted fatigue only in fathers. . Fatigue was negatively correlated with parenting self-efficacy and parenting satisfaction for both mothers and fathers.
Among parents of children with ASD, fatigue is a problem regardless of child age and interventions should therefore not be focused solely on parents of young children. In understanding fatigue, it is important to consider the similarities and differences in the correlates of fatigue for mothers and fathers. For both mothers and fathers, targeting psychological factors (i.e., depressive, anxious, and stress symptoms; perceived caregiver burden) may be an important focus of fatigue interventions. Interventions for maternal fatigue may also include approaches that focus on child behaviours, while for fathers, support around employment issues that impact fatigue may be a more appropriate intervention. This study improves our understanding of factors that impact parental fatigue, allowing mental health professionals to better support parents, and through them, their children.