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Moms of Autistic Kids Cope Well

Under Stress but Show Great Strength, Study Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

mom with son

May 7, 2007 -- The shock of a mother finding out her child has autism is life-changing for most. But a new study shows moms can fare well emotionally and still have a strong bond with their child.

Christina Adams says when her son Jonah’s diagnosis was confirmed around the time of his third birthday, her life changed forever.

In an instant she was transformed from the mother of a bright but somewhat "different" little boy into the mother of a child with autism.

“It is a terrifying, horrific time when you realize that your life is never going to be the same again,” she tells WebMD. “But it is also a watershed moment when your love for your child becomes more than you ever dreamed it could be.”

Moms Cope Well

New research into the coping skills of mothers of autistic children confirms that they are more likely to report "poor or fair" emotional health and mental health than other moms. But they are also more likely to show “remarkable strengths,” the study’s lead researcher tells WebMD.

The findings come from a nationally representative survey of almost 62,000 mothers of school-aged children, including 364 mothers of children with autism.

Mothers of children with autism were just as likely as other moms to report having a close relationship with their child (89% vs. 87%) and five times as likely to do so as mothers of children who had other developmental problems.

And there were few reported differences between moms of autistic kids and other moms in their frequency of being angry with their child or in their perception of their coping skills. About half of the mothers in both groups reported that they were “coping very well with parenting.”

The study appears in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“In general the survey shows that mothers of children with autism are doing well,” says researcher Guillermo Montes, PhD, of the Children’s Institute in Rochester, N.Y.

“They were certainly under a lot of stress, but the mothers in this sample were also able to establish close relationships with their [autistic] children, and they felt competent in their parenting and coping skills.”

Special Challenges

The findings are not meant to minimize the challenges of parenting a child with autism, Montes says. But they do suggest that mothers with autistic kids may have something to teach moms of children dealing with similar developmental struggles.

“The [autism] moms reported being angry at their children less often, and they seemed to have much closer relationships with their children than mothers of children with other social skills deficits,” Montes says.

Adams tells WebMD that parenting a child with autism is more than a full-time job. Alison Singer agrees.

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