The effect on families, who have special needs children, can have a negative impact, resulting in an increased level of anxiety, stress and depression (Schwartz and Tsumi, 2003). Family and parents will be used interchangeably.
There are a number of reasons attributed to the increase in stress levels for the parents: Firstly, and the most significant, is the realisation that there is no cure for autism and some learning disabilities (Rezendes and Scarpa 2011). Secondly, which is intimately tied with the first, is a lack of understanding regarding the child's needs (Rezendes and Scarpa 2011). This may expose a discrepancy between the actual ability of the parent and what is required. Thirdly, the family, typically the mother, has a multidimensional role to play when the child has special needs (Rezendes and Scarpa 2011). For instance, the role can shift, not always sequentially, from parent to facilitator to carer. Knowing when to shift roles successfully comes through practise and can cause stress and anxiety on the parent (Rezendes and Scarpa 2011). Lastly, there is a direct correlation between heightened stress levels and the age of the parents (Rezendes and Scarpa 2011). This suggests the adaptive function of the parents reduces as they get older.
There are two elements that can act as predictive factors in identifying parental stress:
The relationship between the primary care giver and stress levels
The amount of stress experienced by the parent is directly proportionate to the amount of support that is delivered. (Weiss, Sullivan and Diamond, 2003) Mothers tend to show more stress than fathers, based on the research conducted, because the mothers had more contact with the child than the father (Pelchat, Lefebvere and Perreault 2003). This suggests that the primary care giver, within the family, will be experiencing higher stress levels than others.