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Impact of respite care on perceived stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms in military parents with a child on the autism spectrum

APA Citation:

Christi, R. A., Roy, D., Heung, R., & Flake, E. (2022). Impact of respite care services availability on stress, anxiety and depression in military parents who have a child on the autism spectrum. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 149(1), Article 970. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-022-05704-x

Abstract Created by REACH:

This pilot study examined whether receiving respite care services (i.e., temporary relief for caregivers) was associated with improved mental health among military-connected parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 119 parents completed questionnaires on whether they received respite care services, the severity of their mental health issues (i.e., anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress) as well as their individual characteristics (e.g., educational attainment, history of anxiety or depression) and family characteristics (e.g., child’s comorbid conditions, number of children in home). Overall, parents who received respite care services reported fewer mental health issues than parents who did not receive services.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Spouse of service member or veteran
Child of a service member or veteran
Military families


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Christi, Rebecca A., Roy, Daniel S., Flake, Eric


Background: Parents raising an autistic child face unique stressors that negatively impact family quality of life. As the prevalence of autism in the United States rises, finding support resources for these families is critical. While shown to benefit these families; respite studies to date are largely qualitative and none focus on military families with an autistic child. This pilot study was designed to measure the impact of respite care services on parental stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Methods: This was an anonymous survey-based study of active duty families with a child with autism receiving care at military medical facilities in the Pacific Northwest. Families completed three surveys between January-September 2020: a demographic survey, the Perceived Stress Scale-10 (PSS-10), and the Patient Health Questionnaire-4 (PHQ-4). PSS-10 and PHQ-4 scores were dependent (outcome) variables for data analysis. Ten demographic (independent) variables were identified as potentially confounding variables. Chi-square test determined statistical significance between presence of respite care services and demographic variables. A regression analysis utilizing standardized beta coefficients calculated the strength of effect of each independent variable on the outcome variables. Results: A total of 119 survey packets were collected. Only 22.7% of parents reported receiving respite care services. Families whose children had a comorbid diagnosis were less likely to receive respite care (89% vs 63%, p>0.001). Caucasian and Asian/Pacific families were more likely to receive respite services (p=0.0410). Advanced education and higher military rank predicted greater likelihood of receiving respite care (p=0.006). After adjusting for confounding demographic variables, it was calculated that PSS-10 (se: 2.41; p=0.01) and PHQ-4 (se: 0.98; p=0.017) scores were lower in families receiving respite care services. Conclusion: In our study, parents receiving respite care reported fewer symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. This highlights respite care as a vital resource. Study results also suggest that social determinants of health can impact parental awareness and utilization of respite care resources. The study is limited by its small sample size. Future studies are needed to confirm the impact of respite services on parental stress and anxiety/depression symptoms in this group and whether these findings extend to the general population.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


respite care, autism spectrum disorder, perceived stress, anxiety, depression symptoms

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  February 2023

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