Objectives: To examine the relationship between maternal affective disorders and specific characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their children in a large sample of families participating in a national online ASD research project.
Methods: Mothers completed online questionnaires regarding their own as well as their affected offspring’s psychiatric history. Relationships between maternal mood disorder status (history of depression or bipolar disorder vs. no history of mood disorder) and characteristics of their eldest child with ASD were explored. Multivariate regression analyses examined whether each maternal affective disorder predicted the following ASD outcomes: high cognitive functioning, child emotional disorders, and multiplex family status.
Results: 5.6% of participating mothers reported receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder by a health professional, while 32.4% reported being professionally diagnosed with major depression, dysthymia or a hormonally-based depressive disorder. Seventy percent of mothers with a professional diagnosis of depression had their initial onset of depression prior to having children; this group endorsed higher rates of depression recurrence, psychiatric hospitalization, suicidal behavior, and family history of affective disorder. Maternal depression was associated with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder, older child age at ASD diagnosis, child psychiatric comorbidities, and multiplex family status. Maternal bipolar disorder was more strongly associated with all of these same characteristics, as well as child comorbid bipolar disorder and a child IQ of 116 or above.Conclusions: Maternal affective disorders predict a specific profile in children with ASD. These data suggest that common pathophysiological mechanisms may underlie these two types of disorders.