Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Gragg, Marcia


Autism, Family quality of life, Online social support, Parenting, Social support, Unsupportive social interactions




Family quality of life refers to the extent to which families are satisfied with different domains in their lives. The concept of family quality of life was originally developed by a group of international researchers as a way to evaluate how having a family member with a disability, such as autism, affects the entire family unit. Parents of children with autism report higher levels of stress than other parents. McCubbin and Patterson developed the double ABCX model, which describes how families adapt to stress. In the double ABCX model, the stressor (aA factor), social support (bB factor), parental appraisals (cC factor), and coping skills (BC factor) interact to determine family adaptation (xX factor). The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the utility of the double ABCX model in predicting family quality of life for parents of children with autism. The variables were operationalized as child challenging behaviour (aA factor), child disability severity (aA factor), unsupportive social interactions (aA factor), social support (bB factor), parental sense of competence (cC factor), acceptance (cC factor), coping (BC factor), and family quality of life (xX factor). Another purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which unsupportive social interactions and online social support may also affect parents of children with autism. Unsupportive social interactions refer to responses from others that are perceived as being unhelpful, and may be detrimental to the well-being of parents of children with autism. Seeking social support online or using technology may also influence family quality of life, but little is known from past research. A sample of 194 parents (103 mothers and 91 fathers) of children with autism aged 4 to 11 years completed an online survey, and 24 participants (12 mothers and 12 fathers) completed follow-up phone interviews. The double ABCX model was found to be a good fit for understanding what contributes to family quality of life for both mothers and fathers of children with autism. Higher adequacy of social support and greater use of the reframing coping style were the most closely related to higher family quality of life for fathers. For mothers, greater adequacy of social support, higher psychological acceptance, and greater use of the reframing and acquiring social support coping styles and less use of passive coping styles were the most closely related to higher family quality of life. Unsupportive social interactions were not significantly related to family quality of life within the double ABCX model, but they were associated with lower ratings of family quality of life on their own, particularly for parents with poorer coping. Online social support was not significantly related to family quality of life. However, parents who reported using technology daily to access social support also reported more unsupportive social interactions, and more child challenging behaviour than parents who used technology less frequently. Thematic analysis was conducted with the parents’ interview responses and several themes were identified related to both within-family and external influences on family quality of life. Some themes were identified that were not captured in the survey component, including the importance of connecting with other parents of children with autism, and access to appropriate childcare. These results suggest that the double ABCX model is useful for understanding how the stresses associated with raising children with autism affect parents’ family quality of life. Consistent with this model, the resources employed and parent responses to the stressors are key for family quality of life. The findings of this study are hopeful, in that most parents of children with autism in this study reported good family quality of life, especially the parents who had relatively more supports and resources. Applied implications of the results are presented in the context of the double ABCX model.