OBJECTIVES. Studies suggest that having a child with autism has a negative impact on maternal psychological functioning, but no large-scale, population-based studies are available. The objectives of this study were to (1) describe the psychological functioning, physical and mental health, family communication, and parenting support of mothers of a child with autism compared with other mothers on a population basis and (2) assess the independent relationship between having a child with autism and these outcomes, controlling for the child's social skills and demographic background.
METHODS. Mothers of 61772 children who were 4 to 17 years of age were surveyed by the National Survey of Children's Health, 2003. Autism was measured from an affirmative maternal response to the question, “Has a doctor or health professional ever told you your child has autism?” There were 364 children with autism in the sample.
RESULTS. Mothers of a child with autism were highly stressed and more likely to report poor or fair mental health than mothers in the general population, even after adjustment for the child's social skills and demographic background. However, mothers of a child with autism were more likely to report a close relationship and better coping with parenting tasks and less likely to report being angry with their child after adjustment for the child's social skills and demographic background. Having a child with autism was not associated with lower social support for parenting, an altered manner in which serious disagreements were discussed in the household, or increased violence in the household.
CONCLUSION. Mothers of children with autism showed remarkable strengths in the parent–child relationship, social support, and stability of the household in the context of high stress and poorer mental health.