Background: Extant longitudinal research suggests parental expectations during adolescence are a significant predictor of outcomes in the areas of social participation, employment, and independence1,2,3 for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parental expectations around sexuality in ASD populations have also been shown to predict parental actions (i.e., the provision of sex education).4 Thus, it is hypothesized that parents’ selection of adulthood preparation activities during adolescence may serve as one mechanism through which parent expectations contribute to outcomes for adults with ASD.
1. Examine gender and cognitive level differences in the preparation activities endorsed by parents of youth with ASD.
2. Determine if gender, cognitive level, age, and parental expectations for the future predict parent-endorsed preparation activities.
A national sample of 309 parents of 12–18 year-olds (M=14.4) with ASD (52% male; IQ estimates: 67% average or above, 13% borderline, 21% IQ <70) provided information about youth age, estimated IQ, autism severity (SRS-2), and parental expectations for the future regarding education, financial independence, community roles, and sex/romance (rated 1-5; very unlikely to very likely). Parents also endorsed actions taken to support development in the areas of sexuality/relationships and employment/independence. We grouped similar actions (e.g., enrolled child in a class to build skills, provided education, youth participated in paid or volunteer work) and created binary variables indicating whether any action in the category was endorsed. Chi-square tests and logistic regression were applied to address the objectives.
Parents of males were more likely to seek guidance from professionals about sex and relationships, talk to their child about jobs, and to have their child participating in paid or volunteer work. Parents of females were more likely to enroll their child in a class to build skills. Youth with IQ<70 were less likely to receive education related to sexuality/relationships and employment/independence.
Higher cognitive level, male gender, older age, and greater parental expectations about financial independence predicted if parents talked to youth about employment (p<.001); male gender and older age predicted if youth participated in paid or volunteer work (p<.05). Older age, and greater parental expectations about romantic relationships predicted whether parents provided sex and social skills education (p<.001); male gender predicted if parents sought guidance from professionals about sexuality (p<.001).
Because of the balanced inclusion of males and females, this study offers a unique look at gender differences in parent-endorsed preparation activities during adolescence. The finding that males are more likely to engage in activities in the community while females are more likely to participate in formal classes suggests there may be more concern about protection of daughters with ASD. It is noteworthy that parent actions were similar for youth in the two higher cognitive categories considering that prior studies report outcomes are similar across the range of adults with ASD without intellectual disability. Finally, this study provides evidence to support the hypothesis that the actions parents take to support their child’s transition to adulthood are informed by their expectations and may serve as a mechanism through which expectations predict outcomes.
1Kirby, A. V. (2016). Parent Expectations Mediate Outcomes for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 1643-1655.
2Doren, B., Gau, J. M., & Lindstrom, L. E. (2012). The relationship between parent expectations and postschool outcomes of adolescents with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 79, 7-23.
3Carter, E. W., Austin, D., & Trainor, A. A. (2012). Predictors of postschool employment outcomes for young adults with severe disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23, 50-63.
4Holmes, L. G., Himle, M. B., & Strassberg, D. S. (2016). Parental romantic expectations and parent-child sexuality communication in autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 20, 687-699.