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Maternal Stress

  • Posted on November 13, 2009 at 11:53 AM

According to a news brief: “the daily physiological and psychological toll on mothers of adolescents and adults with autism is documented, revealing patterns of chronic stress, fatigue, work interruptions and a significantly greater investment of time in caregiving than mothers of children without disabilities.”  The study cited revealed “physiological residue of daily stress” in the form of significantly lower cortisol levels.  According to this brief of the study results, the primary distinction they looked for within the population of mothers with autistic children was “a history of elevated behavior problems.”

While I certainly recognize why this distinction would be appropriate from a research stand-point, I propose an equally important distinction would be to consider parental response.  After all, behavioral patterns of the children are not within the parent’s control, but the behavioral response of the mother is within her own control.  The news brief concluded with this statement from researcher, Leann Smith: “We need to find more ways to be supportive of these families.”  I do not disagree, but perhaps there is something more immediate that parents themselves can do for their own health and well-being.

See I have a hypothesis: mothers who accept autism will have more healthy stress levels and less stress-related health risks than mothers who are constantly fighting against autism.

The key thing for me is this:  “Cortisol levels were found to be significantly lower than normal, a condition that occurs under chronic stress, yielding profiles similar to those of combat soldiers and others who experience constant psychological stress,” (emphasis added).  Considering that many mothers who are traumatized by their child’s autism use language similar to that used in warfare – like “fighting” and “battle” – is it really surprising that they would have profiles similar to combat soldiers?  They are combat soldiers—they are waging a war against autism.  Think of the “I Am Autism” video.  That video used the language of war, not unlike the language used when describing terrorism that happens in one’s home country.

As parents, we can choose to bring stress upon ourselves by waging a war against autism, embracing the psychological risk-factors of a soldier’s lifestyle in the process.  Or, we can choose to be parents, not soldiers, and simply raise our children.  Personally, I believe the latter is the better choice, for our own sake and for the sake of our children.  I hope they continue this line of research and add other factors to see how parental responses to autism affect the outcomes for those parents.