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The Link Between Dyadic Synchrony and Maternal Well-Being in Infants At Varying Degrees of Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
B. C. Gamber and A. R. Neal-Beevers, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background: Researchers have demonstrated how maternal internalizing symptoms can have negative consequences on caregiving. However, there is often a transactional relationship between infant development and the caregiving environment (Sameroff, 1975). Thus it is important to consider both sides of the transaction, including effects that mother-infant interaction may have on caregiver well-being. Siller and Sigman (2002) developed a quantitative definition of dyadic synchrony measuring the proportion of a mother’s interactions that are sensitive toward and contingent upon her child’s focus of attention. Researchers have yet to examine possible links between dyadic synchrony and maternal well-being. This question may be particularly relevant to mothers of infants with an older sibling with ASD (SIBS-ASD), since parents of children with ASD report increased parenting stress and depressive symptoms (e.g., Duarte et al., 2005; Sanders & Morgan, 1997). In this study, we hypothesized that mothers of SIBS-ASD would report higher depressive symptoms and parenting stress than mothers of infants with a typically-developing sibling (SIBS-TD).  Furthermore, we hypothesized that synchrony would be negatively associated with depression and parenting stress across groups, and that this effect would be strongest for mothers of SIBS-ASD.

Objectives: This study will be the first to examine possible associations between dyadic synchrony and maternal well-being in mother-infant dyads with an older child/sibling with or without ASD.

Methods: Twenty SIBS-TD (11 female), 7 SIBS-ASD (5 female), and their mothers were recruited as part of a larger longitudinal study.  Data were collected when infants were approximately 9 months old.  Each mother-infant dyad engaged in a 15-minute unstructured play session with a standardized set of toys. Free play was coded for synchrony yielding the proportion of maternal utterances synchronized with infant’s attention and action (MS).  Mothers completed self-report measures of depression (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale) and Parenting Stress (Parenting Stress Index- Short Form).

Results: A one-way ANOVA revealed that mothers of SIBS-ASD were experiencing higher parenting stress, F(1,23) = 19.66, p <.001, and more maternal depressive symptoms, F(1,21) = 9.76, p= .005, than mothers of SIBS-TD. There were no significant differences between groups for MS.  Multiple linear regressions indicated a significant interaction effect between sibling risk group and MS on maternal depression (see Figure 1). A similar trend was observed for parenting stress, though the interaction was not statistically significant. 

Conclusions: These preliminary results support previous findings of increased depression and parenting stress for mothers of children with ASD. Moreover, while there was no main effect for synchrony on depression or parenting stress, there was an interaction effect. Higher mother-infant synchrony predicted lower depression scores, but only for mothers of SIBS-ASD. Thus, the transaction between mothers and presently unaffected infants is an important consideration for well-being in mothers of children with ASD. By May of 2013, we will have collected additional data at 9, 12, 15, and 18 months. This will enable us to examine synchrony over time, its relevance to mothers’ well-being, and how this differs for SIBS-ASD versus SIBS-TD.

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