Stability and individual change in depressive symptoms among mothers raising young children with ASD: maternal and child correlates


  • This research was conducted as part of the Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART) center at Boston University. Funding was provided by National Institute of Mental Health grant U54 MH 66398 (Helen Tager-Flusberg, Center Principal Investigator, Alice S. Carter, Project Principal Investigator) as well as grants from the National Alliance for Autism Research (Alice S. Carter, Principal Investigator) and the Boston University General Clinical Research Center. We also appreciate support from a LEND grant, awarded by HERSA/MCHB (T73MC00020) at the Institute for Community Inclusion at Children's Hospital and the University of Massachusetts Boston, which provided support to Frances Martínez-Pedraza and Sarah Gray. We extend thanks to the STAART Center staff for their dedicated work on this project. Finally, we are particularly grateful to the families of the children in this study, whose participation in our project inspires this work and makes it possible.


Mothers raising children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) evidence elevated depressive symptoms, but symptom stability has not been examined. Mothers (N=143) of toddlers with ASD (77% boys) were enrolled and assessed when their children were 18 to 33 months old and followed annually for 2 years. Multilevel modeling revealed no significant change in group depressive symptom level, which was in the moderately elevated range (Intercept=13.67; SE=.96). In contrast, there was significant individual variation in change over time. Child problem behaviors and delayed competence, maternal anxiety symptoms and angry/hostile mood, low parenting efficacy and social supports, and coping styles were associated with depression severity. Only maternal anxiety and parenting efficacy predicted individual change. Many mothers do not appear to adapt, supporting the need for early intervention for maternal well-being. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol 65: 1–11, 2009.