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Mothers of Autistic Children have higher Depression Risk

Update Date: May 06, 2014 11:33 AM EDT

Raising children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can be difficult since autism affects children's social and communication skills. In a new study, researchers analyzed the effects of having an autistic child on the mother's mental health. They found these mothers have higher levels of stress and more depressive symptoms in comparison to mothers who had typically developing children.

For this study, the researchers examined 100 autistic children taken from the U.S. Department of Education's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort. The children were born in 2001 and clinically diagnosed with ASD by the age of four. The researchers assessed the mother's mental health when the children were nine-months-old and four-years-old. The team also used a control group of mothers with typically developing children and another group of mothers with children that had other disabilities.

The researchers discovered that during the assessments, mothers of autistic children had higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms when compared to the levels recorded in mothers with non-autistic children. When the autistic children were nine-months-old, over 30 percent of the mothers reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms. The percentage of mothers with typically developing children who had moderate to severe depressive symptoms was 16 percent. The levels of stress and depressive symptoms for mothers with autistic children were also slightly higher than the levels recorded in mothers who had children with other disabilities.

By the time the children reached four, over 32 percent of mothers with autistic children reported moderate to severe levels of depressive symptoms. For mothers of children with other disabilities and mothers of typically developing children, the depression rates were 23 percent and 18 percent respectively.

"The moderate and severe levels of depressive symptoms observed in mothers of children with ASD when children were 9 months and 4 years old suggest the need for supportive interventions focused on both mother and child," said the study's lead author, Laurie M. Jeans reported by Medical Xpress. "The presence of stress and depressive symptoms evident in mothers in this study should be addressed for the sake of the optimal development of children with ASD."

The study, "Examining ECLS-B: Maternal Stress and Depressive Symptoms When Raising Children With ASD," was published in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.

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