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  ❤️

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