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Education and Race Affects Mother's Perception of Raising an Autistic Child

Update Date: Jul 18, 2012 10:44 AM EDT

When a child is born with a physical or mental disability it's not just the child but the family as well needs to deal with the illness. There have been very few studies on the impact of a child born with Autism spectrum disorder on the parents.

According to a latest research, many mothers go through negative social or emotional experiences during the child's transition from childhood to adolescence.

The study which focused on two different times periods (at age 9 and age 14 of the child) revealed that college educated African-American mothers reported significantly lower levels of perceived negative impact on their lives compared to those with lower education.

Even the length of treatment varied between white and African-American families.

Themba Carr, a post-doctoral research fellow in autism early intervention studies at the Center for Human Growth and Development explained in the news release that it is possible that the educated mothers understand the complexity of the disorder and the difficulties faced by the child better and hence are able to cope with the situation.

"Mothers with higher education may also have higher aspirations for their child's achievements, and consequently, higher levels of disappointment in the limitations of their child," said Carr, the study's lead author who collaborated with Catherine Lord, director of the new Institute for Brain Development at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University Medical Center.

Another cause for a mother's negative perception could be cultural differences. In close knit traditional families with strong social networks and higher levels of religiosity, the African-American women in the study "may perceive caring for a child with autism as less of a burden and more of an accepted familial obligation," Carr said.

For the study, researchers used data involving children in whom autism was diagnosed at the 2 years of age.

The questionnaires collected data on how the child's symptoms affected the family dynamics, such as finances, relationships and activities.

One of the most important findings of the study was that when compared to white children, the number of hours of treatment for African-American children was much less. Ever since being diagnosed at the age of 2, till the age of 9, white children received on average 1,856 more hours of individual therapy than African-American children, which increased to 1,958 more hours by age 14, the press release said.

 "It could be that families that perceive children as a greater burden advocate more for services, or that having fought for services, some families are more aware of their children's negative impact on their lives," Carr said.

"It is our hope that the findings of this research contribute to our understanding of the experiences of families of children with ASD from diverse backgrounds and help to promote accessibility to treatment services," she added.

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