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Intolerance of Uncertainty and Coping Strategies As Correlates of Anxiety in Mothers of Children with ASD

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
M. Uljarevic1, J. Lidstone2, S. R. Leekam3, A. S. Le Couteur4, D. W. Evans5, M. H. Freeston6, H. McConachie7, J. Rodgers8 and M. Prior9,10, (1)Wales Autism Research Centre, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom, Cardiff, United Kingdom, (2)Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom, (3)Wales Autism Research Centre, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom, (4)Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom, (5)Psychology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, (6)Newcastle University, Newcastle, United Kingdom, (7)Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, (8)Institute of Neuroscience, School of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, (9)Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Carlton North, Australia, (10)Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Melbourne, Australia
Background:   Research indicates that mothers of children with ASD have higher risk of anxiety than both mothers of typically developing children and parents of children with other disabilities. Research to date has tended to focus on the burden of caring for an autistic child as the main factor underlying the development of anxiety in their mothers. Another less explored factor is coping style of parent: while some coping strategies (problem focused coping styles) can serve as a protective factor and a barrier to the development of anxiety, other types of coping (emotion focused coping) serve as a risk factor for the development of anxiety. ‘Intolerance of uncertainty’ (IU) is currently considered to play a central role in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders in the general population (McEvoy & Mahoney, 2011). IU is most commonly defined as a predisposition to react negatively to an uncertain event or situation, independent of its probability of occurrence and of its associated consequences (Buhr & Dugas, 2009). In general population, it has been shown that elevated levels of intolerance of uncertainty provoke hypervigilant reactions when individuals are faced with uncertain situations. Anxiety would then result from the constant shifting from a state of hypervigilance (linked to the uncertainty of the situation) to a state of avoidance  (Gentes & Ruscio, 2011). Surprisingly, intolerance of uncertainty has not been considered as a risk factor for the development of anxiety in parents of children with ASD.

Objectives:   To explore the likelihood of high levels of anxiety in mothers of children with ASD and the influence of mothers’ coping style and intolerance of uncertainty.

Methods: To date, 37 mothers of children with ASD (mean age of children= 10.9 years, SD= 4) completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS; Zigmond & Snaith, 1983), the Ways of Coping Scae (WCS; Folkman et al., 1986) and the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (IOU; Freeston et al., 1994).

Results:   42% of mothers met the cut-off criterion for clinically significant anxiety.  MANOVA was performed in order to examine whether there was a difference between potentially clinically anxious mothers and non-anxious mothers in terms of their IOU total scores and their use of problem- and emotion-focused coping strategies. There was a significant difference on the combined dependent variables (IOU total scores, problem-focused and emotion focused coping) (p= .003). When the results for the dependent variables were considered separately, it was shown that mothers who had elevated levels of anxiety had significantly higher intolerance of uncertainty scores (p= .003) and used emotion-focused style of coping (p= .005) significantly more than mothers who did not have elevated levels of anxiety.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that a systematic study of factors that lead to the development of anxiety in mothers is needed in order to arrive at a more complete conceptualization of this problem.

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