hold a far different view of the role of parents in the treatment of autism. We recognize that parents are partners in an educational process that requires close collaboration between home and school (e.g., Lovaas et al., 1973; Schopler and Reichler, 1971).
In order to provide an appropriate education for their child, parents of children with autism need specialized knowledge and skills and scientifically based information about autism and its treatment. Prime among these are the mastery of specific teaching strategies that enable them to help their child acquire new behaviors and an understanding of the nature of autism and how it influences their child’s learning patterns and behavior. Parents also need to be familiar with special education law and regulations, needed and available services, and how to negotiate on behalf of their child. In addition, some parents need help coping with the emotional stress that can follow from having a child with a significant developmental disorder.
The identification of parents as serving a key role in effective treatment of their child has great benefit for the child. However, it is a role that is not without costs, and the implications for family life are considerable. Many parents of children with autism face multiple, demanding roles. These include serving as teacher and advocate as well as loving parent and family member. Gallagher (1992) points out the complex demands this places on parents and the need to support family decision-making and control, while providing sufficient professional expertise to enable their choices.
Research suggests that while many families cope well with these demands, the education of a child with autism can be a source of considerable stress for some families (see, e.g. Bristol et al., 1988; Harris, 1994). In general, mothers report more stress than do fathers, often describing issues related to time demands and personal sacrifice (e.g., Konstantareas et al., 1992). Among specific concerns expressed by mothers are worry about their child’s welfare in the years ahead, the child’s ability to function independently, and the community’s acceptance of their child (Koegel et al., 1992). Mothers of children with autism also report more stress in their lives than do mothers of children with other disabilities (e.g., Rodrigue et al., 1990).
Fathers of children with autism or Down syndrome report more disruption of planning family events and a greater demand on family finances than do fathers whose children are developing typically. These three groups of men do not differ, however, on measures of perceived competence as a parent, marital satisfaction, or social support (Rodrigue et al., 1992).