Background The study examined the profile of stress in mothers and fathers of preschool children with autism, Down syndrome and typically developing children. A further aim was to assess the association between parenting stress and coping style.
Methods A total of 162 parents were examined using Holroyd's 66-item short form of Questionnaire of Resources and Stress for Families with Chronically Ill or Handicapped Members and the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations by Endler and Parker.
Results and Conclusions The results indicated a higher level of stress in parents of children with autism. Additionally, an interaction effect was revealed between child diagnostic group and parent's gender for two scales of parenting stress: dependency and management and limits of family opportunities. Mothers of children with autism scored higher than fathers in parental stress; no such differences were found in the group of parents of children with Down syndrome and typically developing children. It was also found that parents of children with autism differed from parents of typically developing children in social diversion coping. Emotion-oriented coping was the predictor for parental stress in the samples of parents of children with autism and Down syndrome, and task-oriented coping was the predictor of parental stress in the sample of parents of typically developing children. The results strongly supported earlier findings on parenting stress in parents of children with autism. They also shed interesting light on the relationship between coping styles and parental stress.