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Cutbacks 'causing stress' among parents of children with autism

New research shows that the levels of stress are higher when families have less access to autism services.

THE PARENTS OF children with autism have higher stress levels than parents of children without autism, or children who have other disabilities.

That is according to preliminary data from a study by NUI Galway’s Irish Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Research (ICAN), which will be presented next week at a conference in the university city.

The research indicates cutbacks in services are having a real and measurable effect on parents’ wellbeing, ICAN said, as well as highlighting stress levels among parents of children with autism.

The Irish Society for Autism told

We welcome any research that can help families with children with autism. It is important to highlight the need for services to be provided for people with Autism.  Research can highlight the deficiencies in services and this can lead to an improvement which benefits people with Autism and their families.


The study shows that levels of stress among parents of children with autism are higher when those families have less access to services.

Dr Geraldine Leader, Director of ICAN at NUI Galway, explained:

Our research is highlighting the negative impacts that cutbacks and inadequate service provision may have, not only on child outcomes, but also on the health and wellbeing of the parents.

This research included diaries, questionnaires, 24 hour blood pressure monitoring and also an analysis of the stress hormone cortisol. “We looked for the physical flags of stress, such as high blood pressure”, explained Dr Leader.

She said that their findings were not necessarily a surprise, and told that she hoped the research would help to bring the subject to the attention of the rest of the country, as stress can have “serious impacts” on those who suffer from it.

Perhaps none too surprisingly, parents of children of autism experience elevated levels of stress compared to parents of typically developing children. However, we were also able to show a correlation between increased stress among parents of children with autism who have less access to services and interventions.

Services and sleep

The preliminary results demonstrate that unmet services needs were a significant factor in the stress. Having a child with a greater number of service needs that were not being met (such as speech and language therapy, respite services) was associated with higher maternal blood pressure and higher parental reports of depressive symptoms and parenting stress, said ICAN.

The study also shows that sleep is an important factor. Child sleep problems and parental sleep quality were associated with maternal blood pressure, parenting stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.

A group of 140 mothers, fathers and a control group of caregivers of typically-developing children were included in the study. The research was conducted by PhD student Ciara Foody under the supervision of Dr Leader and Professor Jack James.

It will be presented at the conference, Autism Spectrum Disorders: From Research to Practice, which will take place from 11-12 June. As well as keynote talks, it will also include a number of workshops where parents can get practical feedback on subjects such as mood, anxiety, DHS and the role medication; advocacy in Ireland; teaching key language skills; and managing challenging behaviour at home and in the classroom.

The event is being organised by ICAN in collaboration with the US science and advocacy group Autism Speaks, and runs from 11-12 June. For more information visit

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