Depression in Moms with ASD Children

"How common is depression in parents who have an autistic child (perhaps due to stress that comes with the territory)? Of course I love my child, but I'm thinking that I may need some counseling or some other form of outside assistance at this point to help me cope better. My fuse has been quite short lately."

Research reveals  that moms of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may be prone to depression if they feel responsible for the cause or outcome of their youngster's disorder. 50% of moms with ASD kids had elevated depression scores, compared to 15% to 21% in the other groups. Single moms were found to be more vulnerable to severe depression than moms living with a spouse.

Mothers are considered to exhibit symptoms of depression if they responded “all of the time” or “most of the time” to at least two of the following questions.

During the past 30 DAYS, how often did you feel:

1. Hopeless?
2. Nervous?
3. Restless or fidgety?
4. So sad that nothing could cheer you up?
5. That everything was an effort?
6. Worthless?

Certainly, a feeling of never being a “good enough” parent can lead to depression. And, in many cases, individual counseling for mothers is tremendously helpful. But, while feelings of guilt and inadequacy certainly are at play for many moms - and dads - there's much more to the story.

Families, even those with kids at the upper-end of the spectrum, cope with many other significant issues that often lead to frustration, anger, irritability, anxiety and more. For example:
  • As kids with ASD grow older, moms and dads often face "retirement" with full personal and financial responsibility for an adult child who may depend on them for everything. This can be quite depressing.
  • It can be expensive to treat a youngster on the spectrum. Many families go into debt to support therapies that are not paid for by insurance. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and anger.
  • It can be tough to engage in normal social activity with a youngster on the spectrum. Social isolation is known to lead to depression.
  • Many kids with ASD have a tough time sleeping, and keep their moms and dads awake all night. Exhaustion can lead to depression.
  • Often times, moms with ASD kids wind up quitting jobs they enjoy – and income they need or want – in order to care for or home-school their child. This can certainly lead to depression.
  • Moms and dads receiving a diagnosis of ASD are also coping with the loss of many of their expectations of parenthood. At the same time, they are losing out on the "parent club" that may have sustained them -- everything from exchanging play-dates and childcare with neighbors to coaching the local ball team. That can be depressing.
  • Moms and dads who have to battle the school districts and state mental health agencies for any type of appropriate services are almost certain to run into issues and circumstances which are unacceptable, but over which they have little control. This is certainly depressing.

In short, having a youngster with ASD can, indeed, lead to depression, but the reasons are many and complex. No matter how optimistic or upbeat parents are, they may be unable to cheer up in the face of exhaustion, bankruptcy and isolation.

What are parents to do in the face of so many negatives?

There are a number of options for action. While none will change the underlying truth that your child’s ASD is here to stay, many can help moms and dads cope better with the emotional strain.
  • Try journaling to relieve your stress.
  • Seek respite care, so that you and your spouse can get away together for a well deserved break.
  • Seek professional help from a professional with experience working with families with ASD children.
  • Lower your therapy costs by choosing low-cost, low-risk treatments for your youngster.
  • Find support among like-minded moms and dads of ASD kids.
  • Know that you are doing the very best you can for your youngster. Instead of tormenting yourselves with "what if's," take a moment out to enjoy him or her.

Note: ASD kids of depressed moms are more likely than other kids to have behavior problems, academic difficulties, and health problems. Maternal depression has also been linked to delays in cognitive and motor development among kids 28 to 50 months old. Long-term, maternal depression has been found to have especially adverse consequences for child development and behavior. Five-year-old kids whose moms experienced frequent depression were more likely to have behavioral problems and lower vocabulary scores than those whose moms had less chronic depression. Thus, if you feel you are suffering from depression and have procrastinated in seeking treatment, then please get some help now – if not for you, do it for your special needs child.


•    Anonymous said... As a single mom, struggling with my ASD beautiful child on my own, I can honestly say I suffer from depression, loneliness, and just being burnt out. I love my child and she is the best thing in my life but being the only support for her from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to be is exhausting.
•    Anonymous said... Definitely stress, yes depression, wishing you could take their pain away during a meltdown and the smile that reaches your heart when you watch them take amazing strides. My 10 year old son has 2 rare diseases in addition to high functioning autism, and he is hospital homebound for school, the autism makes the health issues harder to deal with and the health problems aggravate the autism. It definitely makes for an interesting life.
•    Anonymous said... I can totally relate to that, as a single mum it is 24/7 with no break and friends with NT children just don't get it. I found though that it was the constant fight to get my daughter supported in school that led me dangerously close to depression. I've been home edding for 2 years now and she has made so much progress that although yes, it is still isolating, lonely and exhausting I can see my daughter one day holding down a job and maybe even living independantly. I have hope now, whereas in the school system I had none. She is 15 tomorrow and has high functioning autism. Don't give up. I'm sure you are doing brilliantly.
•    Anonymous said... I could totally see this.
•    Anonymous said... I think this is definitely very common and probably the norm.
•    Anonymous said... PTSD is common.
•    Anonymous said... Thank you for posting this.
•    Anonymous said... Wow, is this ever the case in our home. This HFA is not just our sons condition but a family and marriage condition.
•    Anonymous said... Yep it makes sense for sure xx
•    Anonymous said… Good job I am a dad or this could be affecting me too.
•    Anonymous said… I am in that same predicament, except they haven't diagnosed my 4 year old son yet, keep getting told he is too young. But I know he is ADHD, SPD and more than likely has Aspergers. But, I can't find help anywhere near me and I'm a single mom with the 4 year old and 2 year old.
•    Anonymous said… I definitely have anxiety. I brush mine aside to deal with my son's whose is through the roof. I am constantly achy and I know this is the reason.
•    Anonymous said… I find myself in a constant state of grief. When I see friends post about their kids getting straight A's or excelling in sports I get sad and jealous. I know my son is doing the best he can but would rather stay home and play video games.
•    Anonymous said… I found being around people who know how you feel is a massive help. It saved me somewhat. I spent 12 years in my son's world alone and no one else knew what it was like for me. For him yes but for me no. Until I joined local autism groups. The support and friendship is overwhelming at first as your so used to going it alone. I've met some lovely new friends and we all help each other and know how the other feels. My son gets to socialise and I get to chat with the mum's.
•    Anonymous said… I get that! Anxiety that your child will be ok in school, will not be bullied by neither peer nor ignorant teacher. That he won't have a melt down. That he will have a friend. That the other kids won't throw grapes at him during lunch or steal his food. It has been one difficult road, as a mother, to watch your child go to school. He has always been super anxious too and is also treated for it.
•    Anonymous said… I had exactly that but we moved and changed schools and it's so different. My son has had to learn some social lessons about not telling on every single thing but he's relaxed and is enjoying it now. In his last school I dreaded picking him up as the teacher always had a negative comment and he'd be in tears. So we've been very fortunate but he's 10 and we have many school years to go.
•    Anonymous said… I have a Aspie husband, Aspie step-daughter (22), and an Aspie son (15). For so long, I thought I was depressed, but found out it was anxiety. I have gone through a lot of Asperger's counseling with experts. I was also suffering from unrelated PTSD and so I am on a mild anti-anxiety med and it truly has turned my life around. Talk to a counselor to see if it really is depression. Anxiety is masked in many different forms.
•    Anonymous said… I so needed to read this today. When my son struggles at school I struggle emotionally. I want to help him so much but I feel helpless.
•    Anonymous said… I struggle greatly with anxiety. My husband is an aspie with bipolar, adhd, anxiety, depression and NF 1. Our 14 yr old is an aspie with adhd, anxiety, spd, and NF 1. Our 4 yr old has social pragmatic communication disorder, spd, anxiety and is a runner. Our 17 month old and 5 month old have NF 1, so far. I feel overwhelmed most of the time. Lack of jobs due to hubby's issues and my trying to keep appointments for health and counseling and everyone together. So, no money, lots of bills, and constant worry equals lots of anxiety.
•    Anonymous said… I'd say it's pretty common....extreme levels of emotional stress coupled with anxiety, the fatigue from worrying constantly, yep, a total recipe for depression.... 😕
•    Anonymous said… I'd say very common. Throw is normal life stressors and then for me chronic pain and no support I'm fighting a losing battle
•    Anonymous said… I'm trying to take it one day at time. I have such control issues! Ha!
•    Anonymous said… It's a tough road, going thru the same with my 4 yr old.  :-(
•    Anonymous said… I've had anxiety for a while. My son is 11 and on the spectrum. The daily worries of school life, psychology appts, doctors, meltdowns etc gave me anxiety. I consulted my doctor in which l take medication for now to put me on an even keil to cope.
•    Anonymous said… Not only moms. I am the primary caregiver. I have lost my job, I'm depressed, have panic attacks, and broke. Apart from that, everything is hunky-dory.
•    Anonymous said… Not so much depression, anxiety lethal high have 2 kids asd. 1 with asd adhd severe odd learning difficulties its hard for it to not affect ur mental health esp when ur a single parent buy defo dont tink im depressed its pure worry
•    Anonymous said… One day at a time  😘 I'm here when you need me. You got this.
•    Anonymous said… this is the sort of support I use xxx
•    Anonymous said… You are not alone. Message me if you want to talk. I'm in the same boat  ❤️

Post your comment below…


Anonymous said...

My son aged 13 was excluded from school for 2 days and then after a meeting excluded for good. Since then he has been nasty to me , trying to hurt me, he has trashed the home a number of times and its ongoing. In the meantime he has been offered 1 hours tuition at his grandparents home, that started last Thursday, we got to that one but not the the next as despite trying everything he has not been going to bed till the early hours of the morning. (He has adhd/aspergers). Last night it came to a head i sat with him on a rare nice occasion to watch a film. As soon as it had ended he started to play up resulting in yet another trashed home and doing his best to hurt me.I couldnt take anymore and retaliated resulting in him seeing he didnt any longer have the control and then he broke down and admitted he has been gutted over losing his friends and that i should have fought for him to get back into school. That is not possible by the way as he was disrupting the class, being violent etc. What i am asking i guess is where can i go from here? Do you think counselling would help tho i feel he needs something immediate to take place.

Anonymous said...

You must have written this about me :)

Anonymous said...

No brainer here! what causes me the most depression and anxiety is the lack of community inclusion (sure we've come a long way baby and I am grateful for the gains we've made! ) AND there is so much more to be done! I don't see enough being done at schools or communities to practice compassion and inclusion - what becomes of my child when I die? who will embrace his quirkiness, see his strengths and love him for the man he is?

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing. Oh, the things I've been through-plenty self-inflicted but many from society at large. I have obsessed too much about food issues and my son's ASD, but I will say the couple of things that have helped me be nearly depression-free for several years are finding an excellent chiropractor/healer and eating more good fats in my diet--including saturated fats like whole-fat dairy products and avocadoes. Just admitting to myself that I needed someone else to help me feel better (my chiro. in this instance worked for me) has been a huge step for me. A good psycho-therapist or other type of healer would work too. I do wish we could find more respite care for our 14-year old, though!

Anonymous said...

Although I am typically a very happy person, I find that I have so much anxiety worrying about getting "the call" from the school that I have great difficulty enjoying my day until he gets home. So, I could see how the incidents would be higher for parents of ASD children!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for what you do for families. Our oldest son, 9 yr old, Jack was just recently diagnosed this past summer with Asperger's (it only took about 15 professionals of various specialties-- GI dr, behavior "specialist", 2 neurologists, psychologist -- all said too good of "eye contact" and social" --- to finally come to that conclusion). We weren't looking for a "diagnosis" we just needed more tools in our toolbag to help with his rages and rigid/infatatic behavior to the extent NOTHING helped.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on which person is the main caregiver. Most of the time it IS the mother, (and from what I see in some other groups, the male goes into hibernation mode in a man cave, and mothers do not have that luxury) I am not sure why that is... but it seems to be the norm.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes the dreaded phone call . . . Had those on an almost daily basis for 2 years until they decided to expel my son instead due to his behaviour which is because of his aspie's. The school and teachers were never really interested in trying to understand him. They wanted 'normal' kids who didnt take up time, need teacher aide time or special attention and kids who dont cause mounds of paper work etc. I complained to human rights who agreed my 8 y.o son was being discriminated against due to his condition, but they said the most they could do would be arrange mediation which the school refused. As the school could not be forced into anything human rights dropped it. My boy was off school for nearly 6 months and was with me 24/7 until we recently moved and he starts a new school in a few weeks so keeping fingers crossed things are better here. Ive been threatened with court by the education dept and I told them to bring it, to take me to court. I had plenty of people who would stand up and say he was let down by the system and his school. So far ive heard nothing more from them. Ive been a single parent to my boy all his life, we have no family support and little outside support, our social lives are non existent and its very stressful being his mum sometimes, but I wouldnt trade him for anything. I love my son and I will continue to fight for him, for his right to live in a normal society and to try and educate the ignorant that in the world of an aspie, there are no shades of grey. In their world everything is black and white, and if u really listen and watch them, sometimes they let u peek into their world where the rules are theirs and everything is as it should be to them. Treasure those rare moments and remember that even tho its hard, every now and then that rare glimpse is worth it.

Anonymous said...

Being the mother of an aspie kid gives me amazing joy. Being the mom of an aspie kid in public can be excruciating. People stare and feel the need to comment, often openly, when the grocery store is too much for him, or he melts down because his clothes are itching or his food is too hot. I get so frustrated with them commenting that he is spoiled or immature. That I am somehow less of a parent for not being able to control him, when I know in my heart that I am a mommy warrior and my kid is the most incredible person I know. Also as an aspie mom, its hard to shift from being hypervigillant and planning everything to trying to relax and blend in in the little bit of scheduled down time I manage. My child feels completely "normal" in his own world. I often times do not.

kick ass autism DAD said...

I am a single dad with an 11 year old autistic son....I never hide in the "Man Cave". My ex split with the diagnosis when my son was 3.....Enough of the man bashing....moms split also...so get your acts together and help your kids.

kick ass autism DAD said...

Not all Dads hide in the "Man Cave"....uncool.....Im a single dad of an Autistic 11 year old son....his "mom" split with the diagnosis at age 2 havent seen or heard from her since...I spend more time being pissed at the world than depressed....but I am giving my everything to raise my kid the best I can....and if he lives with me forever so be it......NEVER SURRENDER!

Anonymous said...

My biggest fear that causes much of my anxiety and sadness is what will happen to my daughter when I die. No one knows her like
I do. She has her Dad, but what happens when we are gone? I had her in my late 30's. Besides he would never have the understanding or patience with her that I do.

Anonymous said...

To kick ass dad.... I am also pissed at the world a lot. Mostly kids at school and "friends" parents not understanding. It hurts a lot to see people being mean to your child!

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