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Dev Psychol. 2011 Mar;47(2):551-61. doi: 10.1037/a0021268.

Trajectories of emotional well-being in mothers of adolescents and adults with autism.

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Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin--Madison, Madison, WI 53705-2280, USA.


Raising an adolescent or adult child with a developmental disability confers exceptional caregiving challenges on parents. We examined trajectories of 2 indicators of emotional well-being (depressive symptoms and anxiety) in a sample of primarily Caucasian mothers (N = 379; M age = 51.22 years at Time 1) of adolescent and adult children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD; M age = 21.91 years at Time 1, 73.2% male). We also investigated within-person associations of child context time-varying covariates (autism symptoms, behavior problems, residential status) and maternal context time-varying covariates (social support network size and stressful family events) with the trajectories of emotional well-being. Data were collected on 5 occasions across a 10-year period. Average patterns of stable (depressive symptoms) and improved (anxiety) emotional well-being were evident, and well-being trajectories were sensitive to fluctuations in both child and maternal context variables. On occasions when behavior problems were higher, depressive symptoms and anxiety were higher. On occasions after which the grown child moved out of the family home, anxiety was lower. Anxiety was higher on occasions when social support networks were smaller and when more stressful life events were experienced. These results have implications for midlife and aging families of children with an ASD and those who provide services to these families.

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