Autism Can Affect Mom’s Mental Health

Autism creates stress for mothers but good coping and support networks can help

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Caring for a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be tough. Good coping skills may help mothers deal with the stress. A recent study found that mothers of children with ASD reported having higher levels of stress.

However, the mother’s mental health was protected by having good coping skills and a support network.

The study's authors said, “although there has been an emphasis on parents and families struggling with raising a child with an ASD, it should not be overlooked that many families, including those in the current study, display traits of resilience.”

"Ask a psychiatrist about improving coping skills."

Researchers, led by Benjamin Zablotsky, of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, looked at the data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH).

The NSCH was a nationwide survey of household with children. The survey was conducted by phone interviews with parents, mostly mothers.

There were 56,547 mothers with a child between the ages of 3 and 17. The researchers focused on this age group because ASD diagnosis under age 3 is uncommon. Of the families, 1,014 reported that their child had received an ASD diagnosis at some point.

Mothers were asked to rate their own mental health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.

Mothers were also asked to rate their stress in the previous month. They were asked how often they felt that raising their child was hard, how often they felt irritated and how often they felt angry.

The researchers also asked mothers to rate how well they coped with stress and how much they relied on support networks. Mothers of children with ASD were more likely to rate poor mental health, high stress levels and weak coping skills.

Specifically, mothers of children with ASD were about half as likely to report having strong coping skills compared to mothers of typically developing children.

Mothers of kids with ASD were seven times more likely to report high stress levels and almost three times more likely to report poor mental health.

Mothers of children with ASD who reported strong coping skills and using support networks were more likely to report good mental health and lower levels of stress.

The authors concluded that mothers of children with ASD are under higher levels of stress but that having good coping strategies and support systems can protect mental health from the effects of stress.

This study is limited by the fact that it asked mother’s for self-report on their mental health and stress – instead of using standard psychological measures.

This study was published October 26 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The study was funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Conflict of interest information was not available with the study article.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 4, 2012
Last Updated:
September 16, 2013