Fathers who play active role parenting their child with autism can help reduce maternal depression

Like many others I read with great interest the recent study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, Father Involvement and Maternal Depressive Symptoms in Families of Children with Disabilities or Delays. The research conducted by the University of Illinois, found that fathers who play an active role in their child’s upbringing, can help promote healthy development and communication, as well as helping to boost the mental health and decrease depression of the child’s mother.

Lead author of the study Daniel J. Laxman, analyzed data on over 3,550 children. 50 of those children had autism spectrum disorders and 650 children had other disabilities.

Research was collected with regards to the father’s interaction with literacy and play; including routine caregiving such as bathing and taking the child to the doctor.

It was found that fathers who engage with their child, for example with reading, or respond to the child when they are upset can help the child to communicate more effectively. By interacting more with the child, this also resulted in the fact that mother could have some much needed respite time in which she could have some time to herself, therefore boosting her mental health, wellbeing and decreasing depression.

Laxman said that one of the key criteria of autism is that of difficulties with communication and that this may in part explain why these mothers are more likely to suffer from stress and depression.

Data was collected from  14,000 children, ranging from  9 months of age to 4.

The study sample focussed upon biological parents who both lived with the child for their first four years of life, this was to ensure that the father’s presence could influence the mother’s mental health and wellbeing.

Laxman told:

“It’s really important if we want fathers to do more that moms and dads take time to discuss it, and recognize that they’re going to have different perspectives, and that’s completely OK,”

So although I did not find the results that surprising, I mean, it seems pretty obvious that a father who plays an active role in their child’s life will have a positive impact upon both the child and mother, this research was for me a bit of a wake up call, and I feel of importance to those who parent a child on the autism spectrum.

As the lead rsearcher stated, many of the challenges with parenting a child on the spectrum are due to those difficulties in communication and of how the child can express themselves and cmmucate with members of the family. This is hard for both the child and parents. Someties though it is so incredibly easy for the mother to take on the role of ‘main caregiver’, believing that they can do a much beter job than the father, I was one of those mother’s. But you then quickly learn that this is not true. The child needs both parents, as a mother you need to take a step back and allow yourself to breathe, to allow your child’s father to do some of the caring, like bathimes, bedtime story and going out to the playground. This will of course improve the mother’s well being and allow the father-child bond to strengthen and develop as it should.

So although not surprising, many parents, and especially mothers, will read this research and I hope that it help them. I hope it makes them realise that dads too can look after their child, maybe in a different way and not exactly as you would do things. But does that really matter? No, it does not.

Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel J. Laxman, Brent A. McBride, Laurie M. Jeans, W. Justin Dyer, Rosa M. Santos, Justin L. Kern, Niwako Sugimura, Sarah L. Curtiss, Jenna M. Weglarz-Ward. Father Involvement and Maternal Depressive Symptoms in Families of Children with Disabilities or Delays. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 2014; 19 (5): 1078 DOI: 10.1007/s10995-014-1608-7

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Dads’ parenting of children with autism improves moms’ mental health: Fathers’ engagement in literacy, caregiving activities reduces mothers’ depression, stress.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150714131600.htm