Date of Award

Summer 5-18-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Counseling Psychology




Pamela Foley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Minsun Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Massarelli, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Corinne Datchi, Ph.D.


autism spectrum disorder, child-focused services, family-focused services, parents of children with ASD, service providers


As an increasing number of children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), research on the efficacy of interventions and treatments—the way these services affect the family, the child’s outcomes, and the family’s experience with their child’s services—are gaining importance. Children with ASD tend to be involved in multiple services to a higher degree than children with other disabilities, and parents of children with ASD have reported higher dissatisfaction with services than have parents of children with other developmental disabilities. To date, limited research has addressed the family’s perception of these services and how they feel service providers improve child and family outcomes.

The present study employed a mixed-methods design to provide a thorough understanding of parents’ experiences of using services for their child with ASD. It was hypothesized that parents who reported lower child problem behaviors and higher levels of child prosocial behaviors would report greater satisfaction with child- and family-focused services, and that parents who reported higher levels of stress would report lower satisfaction with services and less positive appraisals of their child’s functioning. Qualitative questions were analyzed through thematic analysis and provided information on positive and negative experiences that parents had in their interactions with service providers, and how providers helped parents see their child’s strengths.

Results of multiple regression analysis indicated that parent appraisals of child functional behaviors were negatively related to parent satisfaction with child- and family-focused aspects of services, such that parents who reported higher satisfaction with professional partnerships reported lower child problem behaviors and higher levels of child prosocial behaviors. In addition, hierarchical regressions indicated that parents who experienced more stressful events over their lifetime reported lower satisfaction with services and perceived higher rates of child problem behaviors, after controlling for multicollinearity between the two measures of stress. There was a negative relationship between the age of the child and parent satisfaction with professional partnerships. Qualitative analyses revealed a number of ways in which providers helped parents feel supported, including presenting an image of competence, attempting to build relationships with parents, and helping parents understand their child’s diagnosis and positive progress. Parents reported that they had negative experiences when they felt disregarded by providers, perceived that their provider lacked competency, or experienced difficulty obtaining appointments.

This study contributes to the literature by considering both parent perceptions of the severity of their child’s functioning and child functional behaviors from a strengths-based approach. The importance of this mixed-methods study was to provide a forum for parents to report their experiences in a way that could meaningfully inform clinical interventions and foster best practices. Limitations and future directions for this research are also addressed.