Fathers play important roles in the lives of all members of their families and the fathering role can be particularly important in families where there is a child on the autism spectrum. As with mothers, the parenting of a child on the autism spectrum can have adverse influence on fathers and the relationships that they share across family. Mothers tend to take on a central role in the relationships that families share with services and schools and this central role is often amplified where there is a child on the autism spectrum. As a result, autism services often find it difficult to engage with fathers or sustain the participation of those fathers who do engage in programs.
Research in other social services indicates that text messaging can be an effective way to engage fathers in long term interventions, get information to them, link them to further information, influence their thinking and effect change in their parenting and relationship behaviours.
Could text messaging be an effective way for autism services to engage with fathers of children on the autism spectrum?
This research study, lead by Positive Partnerships, is investigating if it is feasible and acceptable to engage fathers of children on the autism spectrum in a text-based intervention that is designed to reduce parenting stress, enhance parenting self-efficacy and enhance co-parenting competence.
The text messages that are being sent to the fathers who are taking part in this study are addressing factors in fathers’ relationships with their family that are known to be associated with parenting stress.
The study is also assessing the fathers’ perceptions of the experience.
What we learnt
The research found that the fathers did engage via the text-based intervention, with 89% of the fathers receiving the messages for the full duration of the program. Some fathers replied to the text they received, as though they were messaging someone. One father replied: “Really appreciating the messages – great to have the discrete reminders to reset the mind. Thank you!”
From the fathers that completed the exit survey (N=71, 43.6%) we learnt:
- Fathers enjoyed the messages (95.8%)
- Fathers felt more supported as a result of receiving the messages (87.3%)
- Fathers reported the messages having a positive influence on parenting their child (88.7%)
- Fathers had a better understanding of their child (71.8%)
From the fathers that completed the pre and post surveys on parenting stress and parenting self-efficacy, we learnt that these fathers demonstrated desirable changes in parenting self-efficacy, parenting stress and perceptions in relation to formal support. These encouraging results will need to be confirmed in similar studies and hopefully tested in controlled trials designed to ensure that other sources of influence were not responsible for these outcomes.
Text2dads has been an important experience for many fathers who described (during phone interviews) how they felt supported by the messages and how the information influenced their knowledge, their thinking and the way that they interact with their partners and their children. One father stated, “they have really changed the way I interact with my son,” while another said; “understanding, that is where the texts have helped me, I have a much better understanding [of him]”.
Making a difference
Positive Partnerships is using these findings to inform how we interact and engage with fathers throughout our program. Positive Partnerships will use some of the messages developed to reach fathers through our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn channels.
The University of Newcastle is currently reaching out to other research partners to continue researching how text-based interventions can support fathers who have a child on the autism spectrum.
The next step for Positive Partnerships is to translate some text messages for families from different multicultural groups. The aim is to support them to learn more about autism, to access supports from Positive Partnerships via embedded links and to feel connected and less alone on their journey.
Positive Partnerships researchers
Alison Macrae, Laura Owens, Craig Smith
University of Newcastle, Australia
The study is funded by Positive Partnerships, a national project delivered by Aspect with funding from the Australian Government Department of Education and Training through the Helping Children with Autism package.