Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP, Chair, Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Susan Panichelli Mindel, PhD, Chairperson

Second Advisor

Stephanie H Felgoise, PhD, ABPP

Third Advisor

David Mandell, ScD


A reasonable amount of parenting stress is not only expected, but often adaptive (Deater- Deckard, & Scarr, 1996); however, in the presence of chronically high levels of stress, negative outcomes are common. Parents of children with special needs, particularly autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are especially vulnerable to the presence of clinically significant levels of stress, making this group an important focus in the prevention of negative outcomes. The purpose of the present study was to determine the contribution of barriers to care, social support, and child behavioral problems to stress levels of parents with a child newly diagnosed with ASD. It was hypothesized that more support services and fewer barriers to care 6 months post diagnosis would moderate the association between parental stress at baseline and at 6 months. Findings provided preliminary evidence to support portions of the proposed model. Mothers who reported low stress at baseline demonstrated increased stress over time when exposed to even a moderate number of barriers to care. In contrast, mothers with high levels of stress did not demonstrate changes in stress levels as a result of reported barriers to care. Child behavioral problems and social support were not associated with parental stress over time. The application of findings to stress management programs, public policy, and future research are discussed.