Single Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): The Relationship among ASD Severity, Social Support, and Maternal Depression

Research has found that depression and anxiety are present in 26.7% and 33.7% of parents with ASD children, respectively (Machado Junior, Celestino, Serra, Caron, Ponde, 2014). Social support has also been identified as a critical factor that reduces the negative psychological effects of raising a child with ASD (Bishop et al., 2007; Bromley et al., 2004).

Therefore this study explored the relationship between depression and social supports for single mothers who are caregivers of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Using a cross-sectional research design, we recruited a sample of 42 mothers with low (n = 22) and high (n = 21) ASD-symptom children from three CLSCs in Montreal, Quebec.

The study surveyed respondents using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 to assess the mother’s level of depression and the Interpersonal Support Evaluation List-Short Form to assess the level of social supports. As hypothesized, our findings showed that mothers of children with low autism reported lower depression scores than mothers of children with high autism who reported moderate to moderately-severe depression. Mothers of children with low autism had significantly higher social support scores than mothers of children with high autism. A moderate negative correlation between depression and social supports was found for mothers of low autism children.

Due to the study’s limitations, the results are not generalizable to the larger population; however, findings suggest the importance of social support during difficult times with this population of mothers.

References

Machado Junior, S. B., Celestino, M. I. O., Serra, J. P. C., Caron, J., & Pondé, M. P. (2014). Risk and protective factors for symptoms of anxiety and depression in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, (0), 1-8.

 

Relationship between severity of behavioural problems and depression in caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Our team of researchers asked how are severity of behavioural problems related to depression in caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? The team hypothesised that more severe behavioural problems would be associated to higher levels of caregiver depression.

A survey was created in order to gain data on age, gender, family composition (single or two parent homes), perceived severity of the child’s behavioural problems and self-reported symptoms of depression.  Measures included a Likert-scale questionnaire adapted from the Child’s Behavior Checklist to measure severity of child behavioral problems and the Beck’s Depression Inventory to measure caregiver depression.

A total of 42 caregivers of autistic children participated in this study (n=42). Using the Pearson correlation coefficient, researchers found a very strong positive correlation between the two variables, r= 0.8, n= 42, p= >0.05. A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to explore the impact of the family composition in addition to the severity of behavior, on the parent’s depression level. The sample was divided into four groups: single-parent with high behavioral severity (single-H), two-parent with high behavioral severity (dual-H), single-parent with low behavioral severity (single-L) and two-parent with low behavioral severity (dual-L). The means of depression severity of these four groups, were compared using the Anova. Results show that family composition does not have a significant impact on parental depression. However due to the limitation regarding small sample sizes, these results remain inconclusive. The team of researchers therefore suggest further research be conducted with larger sample sizes.

Measuring Change in Postpartum Depression Risk among Women who Received Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Our study evaluated the efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy on women at-risk of postpartum depression (PPD). The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) was administered both to screen for eligibility and at post-intervention. Interpersonal psychotherapy significantly reduced PPD risk (p = .05).

The EPDS was developed by Cox, Holden and Sagovsky (1987) who modified 21 items from the Irritability, Depression and Anxiety Scale and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and constructed the remaining items. The tool was then administered to women know to have depression and non-depressed women in order to measure criterion validity (concurrent) and split half-reliability (Cox, Holden & Sagovsky, 1987). The authors concluded that the tool is valid and reliable, with a score of 13 and above indicating PPD risk.

The authors caution the EPDS is designed to identify depressive symptoms within the last 7 days and is not a diagnostic tool. A clinical assessment is required to confirm a PPD diagnosis as the DSM stipulates that symptoms must be present for 2 weeks (Cox, Holden & Sagovsky, 1987). This caveat is relevant to the validity of our findings as it is possible that administering the EPDS once at post-test may have measured sub-clinical depression risk rather than PPD risk. Matthey and Ross-Hamid (2012) recommend that studies using the EPDS repeat its administration for increased validity, however this suggestion was not adopted in our study. It is possible that this limitation decreased the power of our study and may explain why our findings did not reach greater significance.

 

Cox J.L., Holden J.M., & Sagovsky R. (1987). Detection of postnatal depression. Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. British Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 782–786.

Matthey, S. & Ross-Hamid, C. (2012). Repeat testing on the Edinburgh Depression Scale and the HADS-A in pregnancy: Differentiating between transient and enduring distress. Journal of affective disorders, 141(2), 213-221.

 

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