While stress is a common experience for parents caring for a child with a developmental disability, current measures fail to distinguish between general stress in parents and the demands of parenting and perceptions of parenting skills (parenting stress). This study examined differences in 'parenting stress' reported by parents of children with autism and typically developing children. This study examined the role of child characteristics (age, autism severity, child quality of life and problem behaviour) on parenting stress in 150 parents of cognitively able children and adolescents with autism. The results revealed that child hyperactivity was the only factor significantly related to parenting stress in parents of children with autism, overruling measures of autism severity and child quality of life. This finding indicates the significant influence of problematic behaviours on parenting demands and perceptions of parenting skills in parents of children with autism, over other child characteristics conceived as within the parent's control. Study implications for future research are discussed. © The Author(s) 2013.