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There was study done by Guillermo Montes, PhD and Jill Halterman, MD, MPH from the Children’s Institue in Rochester, NY and Department of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester, School of medicine and Dentristy. They were concerned about small-scale studies which found having a child with autism was detrimental to maternal psychological functioning. They wanted to investigate this theory using a large-scale population-based study. They also wanted to determine how the relationship between the mother and her child were affected by autism. The title of their research article is ”Psychological Functioning and Coping Among Mothers of Children With Autism: A Population-Based Study”1.
When I first read the title, a little voice inside me asked: ”What psychological functioning and coping?” Late night web surfing does not bring out the optimists. Or maybe cynicism is brought on by sleepless nights when your child decides they are going to tear paper until 3 in the morning. Or it could be from those 10 minute meltdowns at the grocery store just when you thought you were going to make it out of there incident-free.
So, when the results of this study which interviewed mothers of 61,772 children (364 of which had autism), indicated mothers of children with autism were highly stressed and more likely to report poor or fair mental health than mothers in the general population, I believed my question had been answered. Yes, we are stressed. Not much of a shock, there. What did surprise me, though, was the results which showed mothers of children with autism also report having a close relationship with their child and better coping with parenting tasks. We were also less like to be angry with our child, and there were no indications of an increase in violence in our households. The results were based on self-evaluations and compared with those given by mothers in the general population. In addition, the results were also adjusted to accomodate for the child’s social skills and demographic background. Based on my own personal experiences and those of my other friends with children with autism, I would say these results were spot on. I have the medical bills to prove my mental health has seen better days. Many mothers, including myself, have found relief from some of the anxiety from medications such as SSRI’s. Nonetheless, some days I feel like a mountain collapsed on me. But other days, particularly those when I relfect on how far my child has come, I am convinced I can move mountains.
So, if you are a mother new to the world of autism and reading this for the first time, do not give up hope. While most of us will agree living with autism is no picnic, it has its rewards. Think of yourself as a contestant on Survivor. While some of the challenges and situations on this reality show seem surreal (come on, who’s going to have to eat a rat or perch atop a pole for 30 minutes?), so will be some of the trials and tribulations you will experience as a parent of a child with autism. When you have a child who needs to be taught inhibition, you learn quickly what surreal is all about. But unlike the reality show, there is one bonus—they’ll never vote you off the island.
1 ”Psychological Functioning and Coping Among Mothers of Children With Autism: A Population-Based Study”, Guillermo Montes, PhD and Jill S. Halterman, MD, MPH, Published online May 1, 2007, PEDIATRICS Vol. 119 No. 5 May 2007, pp. e1040-e1046 (doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2819).