NASHVILLE – Families of children with autism spectrum disorder who use a greater number of coping skills report better adaptation in the child’s transition from adolescence to adulthood, according to a researcher.

Many individuals with an ASD have trouble living independently, and mothers of adults with ASDs often have higher levels of stress and anxiety than their peers, previous studies have shown.

To assess factors that influence how well families of people with ASDs adapt to this transition period, Sandra O’Brien, PhD, RN, CRNP, of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., conducted a web-based survey of a random sample of 115 parents of adolescents with an ASD. The findings were reported during a poster session at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 2014 meeting.

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Survey questions assessed daily stressors, the severity of the adolescents behavior problems, uncertainty in illness, coping strategies and family adaptation. The majority of survey respondents were white (90.2%) and female (91.3%), and the majority of adolescents were male (84.2%) with an mean age of 16.2 years.

Using a greater number of coping strategies was significantly associated with more effective family adaption, O’Brien found, and relied more heavily on internal resources than extended family members, structured programs or community groups.

“Families of adolescents with ASDs have developed a self-reliant coping style and often find it hard to seek services outside the home,” she said, adding that clinicians may be able to help ease their burden by making home visits.

Among survey respondents that indicated less effective family adaption, the following characteristics were identified:

  • Greater impact of daily stressors – too many responsibilities, too little downtime and interpersonal conflict
  • Struggles with behavioral problems, particularly aggression
  • Worry regarding the adolescent’s disability and the future

Advanced practice nurses can assist caregivers of adolescents with ASDs by addressing these concerns.

“Link them with respite services so they can relax and recharge themselves,” O’Brien suggested.

Other tactics include screening adolescents with ASDs for behavioral issues and referring those in need to appropriate therapists, and connecting parents with support groups for caregivers of adults with ASD.


  1. O’Brien S. “Navigating the Autism Puzzle: What Influences effective adaptation in families of adolescents with autism?” Presented at: AANP 2014. July 17-22; Nashville, Tenn.