Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 42, Issue 7, pp 1411–1418 | Cite as

Maternal Depressive Symptoms Following Autism Spectrum Diagnosis

  • Julie Lounds Taylor
  • Zachary E. Warren
Original Paper


The current study examined depressive symptoms, concerning the week following autism spectrum diagnosis and an average of 1.4 years later, in mothers (n = 75) of young children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Over three-quarters of mothers (78.7%) provided retrospective reports of clinically significant depressive symptoms regarding the week following their child’s ASD diagnosis, with some 37.3% continuing to report clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms at follow-up. Depressive symptoms immediately following diagnosis were not related to initial global characteristics of child functioning, but were related to reported child problem behaviors and financial barriers at follow-up. Results of this study underscore the importance of attention to caregiver distress and depression within models of autism detection and intervention.


Maternal depression Autism spectrum disorder Caregiver distress 



This study was supported by a grant from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and the Marino Autism Research Institute. This includes core support from NCRR/NIH (UL1 RR024975-01) and NICHD (P30HD15052). We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the parents and children who took part in this study and the support of the clinical research staff of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders.


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (2001). Achenbach child behavior checklist. Burlington, VT: ASEBA.Google Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2000). Manual for the ASEBA preschool forms and profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families.Google Scholar
  3. Bailey, K. (2008). Supporting Families. In K. Chawarska, A. Klin, & F. R. Volkmar (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders in infants and toddlers: Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment (pp. 300–326). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  4. Baker, B. L., Blacher, J., Crnic, K. A., & Edelbrock, C. (2002). Behavior problems and parenting stress in families of three-year-old children with and without developmental delays. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 107(6), 433–444.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carter, A. S., de L. Martinez-Pedraza, F., & Gray, S. A. (2009). Stability and individual change in depressive symptoms among mothers raising young children with ASD: Maternal and child correlates. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(12), 1270–1280.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders—Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, United States, 2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Surveillance Summaries, 58(10), 1–20.Google Scholar
  7. Davis, N. O., & Carter, A. S. (2008). Parenting stress in mothers and fathers of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: Associations with child characteristics. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1278–1291.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dawson, G. (2008). Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 20(3), 775–803.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dawson, G., Rogers, S., Munson, J., Smith, M., Winter, J., Greenson, J., et al. (2010). Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: The early start Denver model. Pediatrics, 125(1), e17–e23.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dumas, J. E., Wolf, L. C., Fisman, S. N., & Culligan, A. (1991). Parenting stress, child behavior problems, and dysphoria in parents of children with autism, down syndrome, behavior disorders, and normal development. Exceptionality, 2, 97–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Elliot, C. D. (2007). The differential ability scales (2nd ed.). San Antonio, TX: Pearson.Google Scholar
  12. Estes, A., Munson, J., Dawson, G., Koehler, E., Zhou, X. H., & Abbott, R. (2009). Parenting stress and psychological functioning among mothers of preschool children with autism and developmental delay. Autism, 13(4), 375–387.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fombonne, E. (2009). Epidemiology of pervasive developmental disorders. Pediatric Research, 65, 591–598.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gallagher, J. J., & Bristol, M. (1989). Families of young handicapped children. In M. Wange & H. Walberg (Eds.), Handbook of special education: Research and practice (3rd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 295–317). New York: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  15. Gallagher, S., Phillips, A. C., Drayson, M. T., & Carroll, D. (2009). Parental caregivers of children with developmental disabilities mount a poor antibody response to pneumococcal vaccination. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23(3), 338–346.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gatz, M., & Hurwicz, M. (1990). Are old people more depressed? Cross-sectional data on center for epidemiological studies depression scale factors. Psychology and Aging, 5(2), 284–290.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goin-Kochel, R. P., Mackintosh, V. H., & Myers, B. J. (2006). How many doctors does it take to make an autism spectrum diagnosis? Autism, 10(5), 439–451.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gotham, K., Pickles, A., & Lord, C. (2009). Standardizing ADOS scores for a measure of severity in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(5), 693–705.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harris, S. L., & Handleman, J. S. (2000). Age and IQ at intake as predictors of placement for young children with autism: A four- to six-year follow-up. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(2), 137–142.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hastings, R. P. (2003). Child behaviour problems and partner mental health as correlates of stress in mothers and fathers of children with autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 47(Pt 4–5), 231–237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Husaini, B. A., Neff, J. A., Harrington, J. B., Hughes, M. P., & Stone, R. H. (1980). Depression in rural communities: Validating the CES-D scale. Journal of Community Psychology, 8(1), 20–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hutton, A. M., & Caron, S. L. (2005). Experiences of families with children with autism in rural New England. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 20(3), 180–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kim, Y. S., Leventhal, B. L., Koh, Y., Fombonne, E., Laska, E., Lim, E., et al. (2011). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in a total population sample. American Journal of Psychiatry, 168(9), 904–912.Google Scholar
  24. Lecavalier, L., Leone, S., & Wiltz, J. (2006). The impact of behavior problems on caregiving stress in young people with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50(3), 172–183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H., Leventhal, B. L., DiLavore, P. C., et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 205–223.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lounds, J. J., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., & Shattuck, P. T. (2007). Transition and change in adolescents and young adults with autism: Longitudinal effects on maternal well-being. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112(6), 401–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McDowell, I. (2006). Measuring health: A guide to rating scales and questionnaires (3rd ed.). Oxford: University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mullen, E. M. (1995). Mullen scales of early learning. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  29. Olson, A. L., Dietrich, A. J., Prazar, G., & Hurley, J. (2006). Brief maternal depression screening at well-child visits. Pediatrics, 118(1), 207–216.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Osborne, L. A., McHugh, L., Saunders, J., & Reed, P. (2008). Parenting stress reduces the effectiveness of early teaching interventions for autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(6), 1092–1103.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D Scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Radloff, L. S. (1991). The use of the center for epidemiologic studies depression scale in adolescents and young-adults. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20(2), 149–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rogers, S. J., & Vismara, L. A. (2008). Evidence-based comprehensive treatments for early autism. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 37(1), 8–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sparrow, S. D., Cicchetti, D. V., & Balla, D. A. (2005). Vineland-II adaptive behavior scales: Survey forms manual. Circle Pines, MN: AGS Publishing.Google Scholar
  35. Tomanik, S., Harris, G. E., & Hawkins, J. (2004). The relationship between behaviours exhibited by children with autism and maternal stress. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 29(1), 16–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tonge, B., Brereton, A., Kiomall, M., Mackinnon, A., King, N., & Rinehart, N. (2006). Effects on parental mental health of an education and skills training program for parents of young children with autism: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(5), 561–569.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Warren, Z. E., McPheeters, M. L., Sathe, N. A., Foss-Feig, J. H., Glasser, A. M., &, Veenstra-VanderWeele, J. (2011). A systematic review of early intensive intervention for autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics, 127(5),e1303–e1311.Google Scholar
  38. Warren, Z. E., & Stone, W. L. (2011). Clinical best practices: Diagnosis and assessment of young children. In D. Amaral, G. Dawson, & D. Gerschwind (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders (pp. 1269–1280). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Warren, Z. E., Stone, W. L., & Humberd, Q. (2009). A training model for the diagnosis of autism in community pediatric practice. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 30(5), 442–446.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Weissman, M. M., Sholomskas, D., Pottenger, M., Prusoff, B. A., & Locke, B. Z. (1977). Assessing depressive symptoms in 5 psychiatric populations—Validation-study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 106(3), 203–214.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Pediatrics and Special Education, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center/Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum DisordersVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Pediatrics and Psychology, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center/Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum DisordersVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations