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The Relationship Between Parents' Mental Health and the Gravity of Autism Symptoms

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
S. B. Machado, M. P. Ponde, M. I. Celestino and J. P. Serra, Medicine, BAHIANA School of Medicine and Public Health, Salvador, Brazil
Background:  Autism spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders that involve fundamental deficiencies in social and communication. This disorder can alter family dynamics as an important stressor for caregivers

Objectives:  The present study is aimed at ascertaining whether alterations in the mental health of parents/caretakers of autistic children, particularly anxiety and depression, have a negative effect on the autistic symptoms in children. Furthermore, this work intends to verify which aspects are associated with the psychic illnesses of these caretakers. 

Methods:  This is an observational study with a transversal cut. The target population consisted of students of a specialized school for autistic children in the state of Bahia. The sample of this study was made up of 106 parents/children. The following tools have been used with parents: a socio-demographic data form; the Portuguese version of the HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) to assess the symptomatology of caretakers; and the Portuguese version of ABC (Aberrant Behavior Checklist) to assess the gravity of the symptoms in children. Parents have been dichotomized into two groups: SICK (when they presented, according to the total sum of points in the scale, indication of anxiety and/or depression) and NOT SICK (when the total sum of points in the scale was inferior to the cut-off point). Co-variables have been distributed according to the exposition variable (gravity of the symptoms in children) with the objective of analyzing the differences among the group of caretakers. 

Results:  The sample has displayed a prevalence of women (89.4%) – given that the majority of the sample has been composed of the mothers of the autistic children. 33% out of the assessed caretakers have presented anxiety, 26.4% depression and 18% both disorders. Among the caretakers without AD (anxiety and/or depression), 10.8% had children with severe autistic symptoms, against 34.1% of the fathers without AD (p=0.0009). The prevalence of AD on mothers aged up to 30 has been of 57.1%, against 14.9% of the group aged between 30 and 45 and 31.8% of the group aged above 45 (p=0.01). The presence of another child has shown itself as a worsening factor for the health of parents thus increasing the prevalence of AD within this group from 28.6 to 50% (p=0.008). 

Conclusions:  This study has demonstrated a high prevalence of depression and/or anxiety in the assessed sample (40.5%). The comparison between the gravity of symptoms of children and the symptoms of parents has indicated that the prevalence of children with severe autistic symptoms has been of 10.8% in the group of parents with lower scores in the HADS and 34,1% in the group of parents with higher scores in the HADS, therefore evidencing a direct relationship between the gravity of children’s symptoms and the worsening of parents’ mental health. The low age range of mothers has worked as a predictor of maternal illnesses.

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