Depression and anxiety in parents of children
and adolescents with Asperger Syndrome
Kevin P. Stoddart1
Researchers and clinicians have long recognized that parenting a child with autism is a significant life stressor (Bristol 1984; Bristol and Schopler 1984). A parent's grief response to a child with a disability may be chronic in nature and may be precipitated by failure of the child to progress typically at periods of developmental transitions (Olshansky 1962; Wikler 1981). Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) experience greater levels of stress than do parents of children with other developmental delays (Donovan 1988; Holroyd and McArthur 1976). Research has also shown that parents of children with ASDs are at greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety when compared to parents of children with other developmental disabilities (e.g. Piven et al. 1991; Smalley, McCraken, and Tanguay 1995). Although there has been past examination of variables that may contribute to or ameliorate stress in parents of children with disabilities (e.g. Gallagher, Beckman, and Cross 1983), it is critical to re-examine parent response in the context of current services and parent supports, and because of advances in diagnosis of ASDs.
Few studies examine the mental health profiles of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and the contributors to, and moderators of, mental health problems in these parents. Although we have little evidence to believe otherwise, it cannot be assumed that the mental health profiles of parents of children with AS are the same as those for parents of children with other ASDs.
1 Appreciation goes to the parents and agencies that participated in this research.