Anxiety in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Is Associated with Affective Symptoms in Their Mothers

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
9:00 AM
M. Uljarevic1, J. Lidstone2, S. R. Leekam1, H. Kanaris3, A. M. McKigney4, J. Mullis5, R. Paradice6 and M. Nešić7, (1)School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom, (2)Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, (3)Speech and Language Therapy Dept, St. Cadocs Hospital, Newport, United Kingdom, (4)Child and Adolescent Unit, St Cadoc's Hospital, Newport, United Kingdom, (5)Speech and Language Therapy Department, Cardiff & Vale University Health Board, Cardiff, United Kingdom, (6)St David's Hospital, Cardiff, United Kingdom, (7)Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Niš, Niš, Serbia
Background: Anxiety symptoms have been described as one of the most common comorbid psychiatric conditions in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Although the rates of clinically significant anxiety differ between the studies, up to 40% of individuals with ASD are reported to have at least one comorbid anxiety symptom (van Steensel, Bogels & Perrin; 2011). Affective disorders are also considered to be the most commonly observed psychiatric diagnosis in the first degree relatives of autistic individuals (Gerdts & Bernier, 2011). Interestingly, the association between the presence of anxiety in autistic individuals and affective disorders in parents has not been thoroughly examined.

Objectives: to investigate the association between anxiety in children and adolescents with ASD and the presence of affective disorders in mothers.

Methods: The Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale (Spence, 1998), and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (Zigmond & Snaith, 1983) were administered to a sample of 26 parents of children with ASD (mean age= 120.1 months, range= 28.7-214 months). Other potential correlates of children’s anxiety were also examined. These included chronological age, autism severity measured by the Social Communication Questionnaire (Rutter et al., 2003) and repetitive behaviours measured by the Repetitive Behaviour Questionnaire 2 (Leekam et al., 2007).

Results: Comparison between autism group and normative group showed a significant difference in mean levels of anxiety (t= 2.485, df= 50, p=0.08, one tailed). 7 children with ASD obtained scores equal or higher than clinical mean (42.48; Spence, 1997). 73% of mothers of children with ASD met criteria for clinically significant anxiety and 30% met criteria for depression. Following these descriptive analyses, regression analysis was performed to determine whether chronological age, autism severity, repetitive behaviours scores of children and anxiety and depression of parents were associated with anxiety in children. It was found that the only significant predictor of anxiety in children was anxiety in parents. 

Conclusions: Children with autism were found to have considerably higher levels of anxiety than the normal population which is in line with previous research (van Steensel, Bogels & Perrin, 2011). Our findings that 30% of mothers of children with ASD met the criteria for depression and that 73% of mothers met the criteria for clinically significant anxiety are also in line with the literature (Bolton, Pickles, Murphy, & Rutter, 1998; Micali, Chakrabati, & Fombone, 2004; Ingersoll, & Hambrick, 2011). While the results of our regression analysis are preliminary, finding that anxiety in mothers of children with ASD was associated with levels of anxiety in children lend the support to the hypothesis that affective disorders share common genetic risk with ASD.


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