A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2020 | Number 1, Volume 34

Challenging behaviors in ASD increase risk for parental PTSD

Article Body Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or rare diseases frequently exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study from Australia. The study also reports that challenging child behaviors positively predict PTSD in both groups. Michelle Stewart and colleagues enrolled 395 parents in their study. These included 226 parents of children with ASD, 139 parents of children with rare diseases, and 30 parents of typically developing children. The researchers used the Life Events Checklist for DSM-5 to screen parents for histories of traumatic events, asked the parents to use the Developmental Behavior Checklist to describe their children’s emotional and behavioral problems, and administered the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 to the parents to determine how many PTSD symptoms they had. Stewart and colleagues report that using stringent criteria, they found that 18.6% of parents of children with ASD and 12.2% of parents of children with rare diseases reported symptoms consistent with a PTSD diagnosis. No parents of typically developing children reported symptoms consistent with PTSD. Moreover, the researchers found that challenging behaviors in children with ASD—for example, kicking, hitting, and anxiety-related behaviors—accounted for more than 30% of the variance in PTSD symptoms in parents. “Further,” they say, “69% of parents of children with ASD who reported challenging child behaviors within the clinical threshold range also exceeded the clinical cut-off score for consideration of a PTSD provisional diagnosis.” For parents of children with rare diseases, anxiety-related behaviors were the only positive predictor of PTSD symptoms. The researchers conclude, “Health professionals need to be aware that some parents of children with ASD and parents of children with a rare disease may be exposed to events related to their child’s behaviors that lead to the experience of traumatic stress.”


“Challenging child behaviours positively predict symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder and rare diseases,” Michelle Stewart, Alexandra Schnabel, David J. Hallford, Jane A. McGillivray, David Forbes, Madeline Foster, Kerrie Shandley, Madeleine Gardam, and David W. Austin, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Vol. 69, 2020. Address: Alexandra Schnabel, School of Psychology, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Melbourne, VIC, 3125, Australia.