Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Linguistic Input to Infants at High or Low Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
M. Lauze1, A. B. Choi2, C. A. Nelson3 and H. Tager-Flusberg4, (1)Tufts University, Medford, MA, (2)Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, (3)Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, (4)Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background: Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience higher levels of depressive symptoms than the general population (Bailey et al., 2007). Depression can impair parents’ social skills, and studies have shown that depressed mothers use fewer overall and less varied words when speaking to their children (Rowe, Pan, & Ayoub, 2005). While this relation has been studied in typical development, it remains less clear whether it is also found among mothers of infant siblings of children with ASD.

Objectives: We aimed to determine (1) whether mothers of infant siblings of children with ASD (high-risk with eventual ASD = HRA+; high-risk with no ASD = HRA-) and mothers of infants with no family history of ASD (low-risk comparison = LRC) experience different levels of depressive symptoms and (2) the relation between maternal depressive symptoms and linguistic input to infants within the first two years of life.

Methods: Mothers completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale Revised (CESD-R; Eaton et al., 2004) when infants were 6, 12, 18, and 24 months of age. To address objective 1, CESD-R scores of HRA+, HRA-, and LRC mothers were compared at each time point, using nonparametric tests (n = 166). For objective 2, measures of maternal linguistic input (word tokens = number of total words; word types = number of different words) were examined from 10-minute parent-child interactions of a subsample of participants (n = 89) at child ages 12, 18, and 24 months. Correlational analyses were then conducted between maternal depressive symptoms and linguistic input, controlling for maternal education level, for the entire sample.


(1) Using Kruskal-Wallis tests, we found no significant group difference in CESD-R scores at 6, 18, and 24 months. However, we found a significant group difference in CESD-R scores at 12 months, χ2(2, N = 129) = 6.22, p = .045. Post-hoc analyses using Mann-Whitney U tests revealed that HRA+ mothers’ CESD-R scores were significantly higher than those of LRC mothers, z = -2.237, p = .025. Additionally, HRA- mothers’ CESD-R scores were higher than those of LRC mothers, though marginally significant, z = -1.185, p = .069.

(2) Mothers’ 12-month CESD-R scores were significantly, negatively correlated with word tokens and types produced at 24 months, tokens: r = -.34, p = .014; types: r = -.33, p = .017. This same relation was found between mothers’ 18-month CESD-R scores and token and type production at 24 months, tokens: r = -.37, p = .015; types: r = -.45, p = .002.

Conclusions: Mothers of children at high risk of developing ASD did not, for the most part, report higher levels of depressive symptoms. Additionally, mothers who reported higher depressive symptoms tended to use fewer, less diverse words with their children. Understanding maternal linguistic input to HRA children provides insight into these children’s subsequent language development.