Fact Sheet - Men's business

Men's Business - extended version

The role of dads in families has changed over the years. Dads these days are often a lot more involved with their kids than their own dads were.  This is true in families without disabilities as well as those with autism. Even though more dads are involved when their children are on the spectrum, a lot of the research and services are focused on mums.  This means that dads have fewer sources of information and support. Other issues for dads can include:

  • blaming themselves,

  • effects on their marriages or partnerships,

  • the constant strains of caring,

  • restrictions on family life,

  • difficulty telling other people about the disability, and

  • feeling guilty about having negative feelings about their child.

This fact sheet has been written for dads and for people supporting families to help them understand the important role men play.

Dads are important

Dads play a really important role in their child’s development and how well the whole family is working. Research about dads show that they help their child learn language and how to play. A dad being part of his child’s life also helps his partner’s well-being. 

Dads often cope in different ways to mums

All parents cope differently with a diagnosis of autism in their family. While there is quite a bit of research about how mothers cope, we don’t know as much about the dads. Some research says that dads are less likely to try to find support and they have fewer chances for meeting other dads. Some men find that they have few good mates who they can talk to about family issues.  Dads with children on the spectrum might feel more depressed than other dads. This might be related to the types of behaviours that children on the autism spectrum can show, which can be stressful and hard to manage.

Supporting dads

Research and practice tells us that many dads have difficulty finding services and often rely on information that comes from their partner. It is often hard to find a service that suits them. Sometimes this is because of practical issues like the timing of groups or workshops. In other cases, information and services are geared more towards mothers and don’t always meet the particular needs of dads. Some dads find it difficult to talk about their emotions and feelings. This can be particularly hard for some dads when their wife is there as well, often because they are used to being the ‘strong one’.

Dads involved in Positive Partnerships workshops for men have indicated that a mix of information and time for discussion was good and that they appreciated meeting other dads in a similar situation to them. All the dads surveyed indicated that a few hours on a weeknight or on a weekend was the best time to meet and most said that 3 or more sessions was the right number, with some dads indicating that they would like ongoing sessions. The dads surveyed didn’t have a preference about whether the sessions were run by men or women.

In general, it is important for services supporting dads to focus on their particular needs. This includes:

  • ensuring that the timing of sessions allows the majority of dads to attend,

  • looking at practical strategies including information about how to support behaviour,

  • focusing on strengths, practical supports and developing relationships with their child,

  • allowing plenty of time for discussion and sharing, and

  • encouraging dads to meet each other to share their stories.

Resources and links for dads

In summary

Dads play a crucial role in families of children on the autism spectrum. They cope differently to mothers and might not have access to the same emotional supports. Services for dads should focus on providing a mix of information and time for discussion at a time that allows dads to attend.


Beatty, D., & King, A. (2008). Supporting fathers who have a child with a disability: The development of a new parenting program. Groupwork, 18(3), 69-87.

Boström, P. K., & Broberg, M. (2014). Openness and avoidance–a longitudinal study of fathers of children with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 58(9), 810-821.

Flippin, M., & Crais, E. R. (2011). The need for more effective father involvement in early autism intervention a systematic review and recommendations. Journal of Early Intervention, 33(1), 24-50.

Hartley, S.L., Seltzer, M.M., Head, L. & Abbeduto, L. (2012). Psychological well-being in fathers of adolescents and young adults with Down syndrome, Fragile x syndrome, and autism. Family Relations 61, 327 – 342. DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00693.x

Laxman, D. J., McBride, B. A., Jeans, L. M., Dyer, W. J., Santos, R. M., Kern, J. L., ... & Weglarz-Ward, J. M. (2015). Father involvement and maternal depressive symptoms in families of children with disabilities or delays. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 19(5), 1078-1086.


(revised November 2016)