The research, published in the journal Molecular Autism, offers a better understanding of the experiences of mothers with autism during pregnancy and the postnatal period.
“Autistic mothers face unique challenges during the perinatal period and parenthood,” said study leader Dr. Alexa Pohl. “Despite these challenges, an overwhelming majority of autistic mothers reported that parenting overall was a rewarding experience. This research highlights the need for increased awareness of the experiences of motherhood for autistic women and the need for more tailored support.”
The study involved 355 autistic mothers and 132 non-autistic mothers, each of whom had at least one autistic child. The participants completed an anonymous, online survey.
The results show that 60 percent of moms with autism reported that they had experienced postnatal depression, compared to only 12% of women in the general population. In addition, autistic moms had more difficulties in multitasking, coping with domestic responsibilities, and creating social opportunities for their child.
“This worryingly high number of autistic mothers who experience postnatal depression means we are failing them and their infants at a critical point in their lives,” said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge.
“We now need more research into why the rates are so much higher, whether they are seeking help and not getting it, or if they are not seeking help and for what reasons. A new research priority is to develop autism-relevant screening tools and interventions for postnatal depression in these mothers.”
The researchers also discovered that when autistic mothers disclosed their autism diagnosis to a professional, they were not believed the majority of the time. Autistic women felt misunderstood by professionals more frequently during pre- and postnatal appointments and found motherhood an isolating experience.
Yet despite the challenges, autistic mothers reported they were able to act in the best interest of their child, putting their child’s needs first and seeking opportunities to boost their child’s self-confidence.
“This vital study was initiated by the autistic community, who collaborated as equal partners with researchers in the design, dissemination and interpretation of the survey. This is an excellent example of what can be achieved through such partnerships,” said Monique Blakemore, an autistic advocate and member of the team.
Source: University of Cambridge