Many mothers with children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (Autism) diagnosis report higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than mothers with non-autistic children and those rearing children with other disabilities. But we don’t know which factors contribute to or protect against these negative outcomes. Being from a migrant family, I wondered whether mothers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds would experience more or less stress, anxiety and depression in reaction to having an autists child than Australian mothers. Based on other research, we also thought that different coping skills may influence how mothers react. These are the questions I explored for my Honours project with Dr Kristelle Hudry and Dr Josephine Barbaro at OTARC. We were particularly interested in the reactions and coping skills of mothers whose child had recently been diagnosed with Autism.
I asked ten mothers from CALD backgrounds, and 37 mothers from an Australian background to complete questionnaires evaluating their levels of stress, anxiety and depression and the types of strategies they use to cope with stressful situations associated with their child’s condition.
I found that both groups of mothers, on average, experienced similar levels of stress, depression and anxiety, and used problem-focused emotion-focused coping strategies to a similar extent when faced with challenging situations. One difference, however, was that CALD mothers reported using slightly more religion-based coping strategies, such as prayer. I also found that mothers who used more problem-focused coping strategies (e.g., I do what has to be done, one step at a time) accessed more community services and had more support from family and friends. These mothers also reported less stress, anxiety and depression than those who used more emotion-focused coping strategies (e.g., I get upset, and am really aware of it), including religious coping. It seems therefore that coping skills are an important factor when mothers are adapting to having an Autistsic child and should be considered by clinicians when providing support to families.
This is the first study to look at wellbeing in mothers from CALD backgrounds with Autistic children, and it is comforting to see that these mothers are not at increased risk of stress, anxiety and depression compared to Australian mothers. Further research is needed, however, to confirm these results with more mothers than we were able to recruit for this study.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the mothers who participated in this study. Without your co-operation and commitment this study would not have been possible.
By Jackie Maya, OTARC 2014 Honours student