Anxiety and Depression in Chinese Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. Uljarevic1, X. Su2 and R. Y. Cai3, (1)Bundora Campus, La Trobe University, Melbourne, CA, (2)Department of Special Education, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China, (3)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

Anxiety and depression are very prevalent in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, reasons behind such high prevalence of affective problems iare currently unknown. Research to date has mainly considered the impact that children with autism have on parental levels of affective disorders, suggesting that behavioural and emotional problems in children can have more significant impact than the core ASD symptoms. However, it is clear that some of the parental own traits can on one hand buffer against the negative effects of stress and thus serve as resilience factors, and on the other hand increase risk for negative outcomes. Two of parental traits that have been previously identified as risk factors for anxiety in both general population, and in population of mothers of children with ASD are Intolerance of Uncertainty (IoU) and Hypersensitivity. However, the relative contribution of children’s and parental own traits to parental well-being haven’t been explored before.


(1) explore levels of anxiety and depression in a population of Chinese parents of children with ASD; (2) explore the impact of children’s behavioural problems, parental traits of IoU and Hypersensitivity on parental anxiety and depression.


One hunder twenty seven parents (108 mothers) of children with ASD (106 males) completed Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21), Intolerance of Uncertainty-12 scale (IoU-12), Highly Sensitive Person Scale (HSP) and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as measures of parental anxiety and depression, IoU, Hypersensitivity and children’s behavioural problems respectively. Mean age of parents was 35.73 years (SD= 4.11) and mean age of children was 5 years (SD= 2.78).


Fifty nine percent of parents met the DASS-21 cut-off criteria for elevated anxiety (mild: 19.7%, moderate: 11%, severe: 10.2%, extremely severe: 17.3%) and fifty one percent for elevated depression (mild: 14.2%, moderate: 21.3%, severe: 12.6%, extremely severe: 2.4%). Parental anxiety and depression were associated with their children’s emotional problems (r= .324, p <.001; r= .267, p =.002 respectively), and their own levels of IoU (r= .624, p <.001; r= .656, p <.001) and Hypersensitivity (r= .412, p <.001; r= .362, p <.001). In addition, parental anxiety was associated with their children’s hyperactivity problems (r= .187, p= .035). When entered into the regression models, these variables accounted for 44.6% of variance for anxiety (F= 24.557, p <.001; IoU and emotional problems being unique, independent predictors, t = 6.53, p < .001, β = .237; t = 3.15, p = .002, β = .497 respectively) and 46% of variance for depression (F= 34.908, p <.001; IoU and emotional problems being unique, independent predictors, t = 7.98, p < .001, β = .281; t = 2.512, p = .013, β = .378 respectively).


This is the first study to explore the contribution of children’s behavioural problems, and parental levels of IoU and Hypersensitivity in predicting parental anxiety and depression. Implications for designing efficacious parental support programs will be discussed.