A mixed method study of mood disorders in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder and mothers of typically-developing children

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Towson University. Department of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science


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This mixed method study examined mood disorders in mothers who were rearing a child with ASD.. The objective of the quantitative section of the study was to examine the occurrence of maternal depression and bipolar disorders in mothers of children with ASD compared to mothers of typically developing (TD) children. The Depression History Questionnaire that was adapted from Interactive Autism Network (IAN) at Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) database was used for this comparison. The qualitative section of the study explored the meaning of the lived experience of mothers who concurrently were depressed and rearing a children with ASD using a phenomenological approach. Results of the quantitative inquiry indicated that mothers of children with ASD report a history of: (a) depression and bipolar disorder; (b) treatment for depression or bipolar disorder; (c) suicidal ideation or suicidal attempts; and (d) depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide among the participants' first and second-degree relatives more frequently than mothers of TD children. The following five emerged themes emerged from the qualitative exploration: a) Regardless of when I was first diagnosed, having a child with ASD contributed to and intensified my depression; b) I feel a lack of support and understanding either from my husband, the extended family, or the community; c) Challenges and stressors of rearing a child with ASD are ongoing; what I do is never enough and is physically and mentally exhausting; d) It is difficult to balance all aspects of my life; it may be less demanding if I sacrifice one of my roles; and finally, e) There is a history of mental health challenges in my family. These findings provide valuable insight about concurrently coping with depression and rearing a child with ASD and propose interventions to address the challenge.