Maternal Experiences of Parenting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Qualitative Analysis

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link





Despite the increased prevalence rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) over the last two decades (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015), little is known about the parenting of children with ASD, including parenting behaviors, parent-child interactions, and how the specific characteristics of children with ASD affect parenting practices. The goals of this qualitative study were: (1) To explore parenting practices and behaviors among mothers of children with ASD; and (2) To illuminate the unique experiences of mothers raising children with ASD. Three research questions guided the inquiry: 1) What are the parenting practices and behaviors that mothers use with their preschool age children with ASD?; 2) What are the beliefs and experiences of mothers relative to raising preschool aged children with ASD?; and 3) What facilitates or hinders mothers' parenting of their preschool aged children with ASD? In this qualitative inquiry, six mothers and their preschool-age children with ASD were recruited from the Autism Center in a metropolitan children's hospital. Each mother participated in three 1-1 ½ hour long semi-structured audio-recorded interviews that entailed a series of open-ended questions about the unique experiences associated with raising a child with ASD. Two home observations and one public observation of mother-child interactions lasting 1-2 hours in length were conducted per family. Eleven themes emerged during the coding process: 1) positivity within the mother-child relationship, 2) schedules and routines, 3) strategies encouraging child cooperation, 4) crisis management, 5) perspectives on child's maladaptive behavior, 6) perspectives on child's abilities, 7) perceptions and experiences around public interfacing, 8) stress associated with caring for a child with ASD, 9) maternal resources, 10) interpersonal supports, and 11) ecological factors. These results shed light on factors that contribute to the everyday realities and experiences of parents who have children with ASD, thereby allowing for a more accurate understanding of their parenting approaches and behaviors. Findings from this study can be considered in the context of developing interventions focused on parenting children with ASD.