J Autism Dev Disord. 2023 Nov 15. doi: 10.1007/s10803-023-06165-6. Online ahead of print.
Caring for children with different developmental trajectories brings various challenges, which are often exacerbated in low-resource settings. International research has shown that raising a child with autism strongly impacts family caregivers, particularly mothers. There is a dearth of information regarding caregiving for individuals with autism in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and for fathers as well as mothers. This study examined the similarities and differences in caregiving for mothers and fathers of a child with autism in KRI using validated rating scales to measure various aspects of their general well-being. Over two years, a sample of 118 parents of individuals with autism (81 mothers and 37 fathers) self-completed the rating scales, which were further discussed through individual interviews with service personnel mainly known to them. The findings indicated that mothers and fathers were similarly impacted. Although there were no statistically significant differences in the ratings of their general health, sources of stress, family functioning, and satisfaction with caregiving, the majority of parents had elevated ratings on all the measures. In addition, parents who rated their children higher on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist had significantly higher scores on their general health issues and were less satisfied with their caregiving role. Parents of female individuals with autism were also significantly more stressed compared to the male individuals with autism and parents of children who received a diagnosis before three years of age, reported fewer behavioral problems with their child compared to the parents who received a diagnosis when the child was older. In this sample, mothers and fathers seem to be similarly impacted by caring for a child with autism, which is contrary to findings from other countries. However, in this region, family bonds between couples and the wider family may have had an influence which further cross-cultural research in low-resource settings could help elucidate, notwithstanding the challenges this poses. The findings have policy implications for health authorities in the KRI to improve the support provided to both mothers and fathers who care for children with autism, which presently is rarely available to them.