Race, education affect mothers' perceptions of raising a child with autism spectrum disorder

by Jared Wadley

(Medical Xpress) -- As children with autism spectrum disorder transition into adolescence, how mothers perceive the impact of their child on their lives is influenced by ethnicity and education levels, a new University of Michigan study found.

Until now, few studies that examined the family impact of a child with factored their diverse backgrounds during the transition to adolescence from childhood. Research shows that for some families experience increased amounts of negative financial, social or during this period.

African-American mothers whose education included some college reported significantly lower levels of perceived in the study's two time periods when children were ages 9 and 14.

One possibility is that mothers with higher levels of education have greater understanding of the complexity of the disorder and difficulties their child may face, said Themba Carr, a post-doctoral research fellow in autism early intervention studies at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

"Mothers with higher education may also have higher aspirations for their child's achievements, and consequently, higher levels of disappointment in the limitations of their child," said Carr, the study's lead author who collaborated with Catherine Lord, director of the new Institute for at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University Medical Center.

Cultural differences might also affect mothers' perception of negative impact. The tradition of strong social networks and higher levels of religiosity among some African-American communities may be protective. Carr said African-American women in the study "may perceive caring for a child with autism as less of a burden and more of an accepted familial obligation."

The study used data involving children who had an early diagnosis of autism at age 2. Researchers gathered information from mothers through face-to-face assessments and interviews (when their children were 9) and through questionnaires and phone interviews (when their children were 14). The questionnaire asked about how the child's symptoms affect the family dynamics, such as finances, relationships and activities.

One of the striking findings that researchers noted compared the number of hours of treatment that African-American and white children received since being diagnosed at age 2. By age 9, white children received on average 1,856 more hours of individual therapy than African-American children, which increased to 1,958 more hours by age 14.

"It could be that families that perceive children as a greater burden advocate more for services, or that having fought for services, some families are more aware of their children's negative impact on their lives," Carr said.

It may also be that parents perceive lower levels of negative impact of caring for their child do not feel as great a need to access services, she said.

"It is our hope that the findings of this research contribute to our understanding of the experiences of families of with ASD from diverse backgrounds and help to promote accessibility to treatment services," she said.

More information: The findings appear in the current issue of Autism: aut.sagepub.com

Related Stories

Mothers of kids with autism earn less, study shows

Mar 19, 2012

(HealthDay) -- Mothers of children with autism and autism spectrum disorders earn significantly less than what mothers of children who have no health limitations earn, a new study has found.

Epilepsy drug may increase risk of autism in children

Dec 01, 2008

A new study shows that women who take the epilepsy drug valproate while pregnant may significantly increase their child's risk of developing autism. The preliminary research is published in the December 2, 2008, print issue ...

Mental disorders in parents linked to autism in children

May 05, 2008

Parents of children with autism were roughly twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, than parents of other children, according to an analysis of Swedish birth and hospital records ...

Recommended for you

Helping autistic kids read, write and communicate

Dec 04, 2014

The boy is delighted. You can see it in his eyes—his enthusiasm for the task, his pride in his ability. Indeed, Max has good reason to be proud: At age three, he is reading. And at this precise moment, ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.