Depression and Anxiety in Mothers of Children with Autism

Many parents express times of loneliness, exhaustion and increased stress. It is not uncommon for all individuals to go through periods of sadness, adjustment or other difficulties. Periods of experiencing these types of emotions, especially during difficult times, do not necessarily signify clinical or even situational depression. Clinical depression is defined as biologically based where symptoms would be present regardless of an individual’s circumstances or satisfaction with life. Situational depression tends to develop as a reaction to prolonged exposure to chronic stress, physical, emotional and/or environmental or significant life changes/losses and a person’s difficulty adjusting or handling these challenges.

There are several reasons why the stress of those parenting children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is so high. All parents of children with disabilities must cope with grief, worries about the future, and the struggle to find and obtain appropriate services. Parents of children with ASDs face some additional stressors. First, they often live with uncertainty about what caused their child’s autism.

The parents of children with autism spend huge amounts of time, money and energy on their children’s behalf and can be incredibly stressed both physically and emotionally. “They are true heroes to their families,” comments Paul Wang, Autism Speaks senior vice president for medical research. “This study shows the potential for simple interventions, led by other parents, to decrease that stress and improve parents’ mental health. In these and other ways, our AS-ATN centers are working with parents and families to find the best ways to support them and help ensure the best outcomes all around.”

There is also the fact of the intense added frustration and confusion that parents of children with autism experience when advocating for their children’s therapies which are not covered by their insurance plans. Many newer and successful treatments, some but not all are classified as alternative medicine, are being found, though insurance providers are slow to acknowledge and pay for these treatments. 

Symptoms of depression may not necessarily signify a diagnosis of depression, but it definitely should be a red flag. The most challenging step of helping parents of children with special needs deal with depression is first helping them recognize the signs of depression and identify their own symptoms. The second most challenging step is helping parents begin to change their behaviors and thought processes that are perpetuating the symptoms which may lead to actual depression.


Autism Speaks Science Digest for a full range of autism research news, perspective and expert advice.

Stress, anxiety, and depression among parents of children with autism spectrum disorder by Omar A. al Farsi August 4, 2016


Author: Mohamoud A Hussein, Master of Social Work, Clinical social work LGSW

Photo credit: Huffington Post 

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