Respite care for single mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders

Author(s): Dyches, T.T., Christensen, R., Harper, J.M., Mandleco, B., and Roper, S.O. (2016)

Published In: J Autism Dev Disord, 46: 812-824

Study Aim/Purpose:
This study sought to measure how use of respite care was associated with depression levels among single mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Summary of Methods:
This was a cross-sectional study with a sample of 122 single mothers who had at least one child with ASD. Mothers were recruited to complete a 15-20 minute survey through various channels, including electronic social media, newsletters, and organizations related to ASD. The survey collected demographic information and included items from four self-report behavioral tools: (1) the 20- item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-d); (2) the 20-item Caregiver Burden Instrument; (3) the Hassles and Uplifts Scale which asks respondents to indicate how much of a daily hassle or uplift they experience from 53 items; and (4) questions about the amount of respite care they receive, the providers of respite care, satisfaction with care, and how they spent their time while others were caring for their child(ren). Structural equation modeling was used to analyze the association between respite care receipt and depression as the dependent variable. Analysis also measured the mediating effects of stress and uplifts on depression.

Summary of Results:
The authors found that about 60 percent of respondents accessed some form of respite care for an average of 7 hours per week; satisfaction was high for respite received; and the majority either worked or ran errands during the respite time. Mothers who reported more daily uplifts on average reported fewer symptoms of depression. The intensity of daily hassles and caregiver burden were independently significantly positively correlated with reported depression symptoms. However, the authors did not find an association between amount of respite care received and depressive symptoms or stress. They did find that uplifts were a mediating variable between respite care and depression.

Study Limitations (as cited by authors):
Authors noted that the study’s sample size and cross sectional design limited its ability to analyze correlational relationships and the direction of effects between variables. They also noted that that the findings’ generalizability is limited by the demographics of the respondents who were mostly non-Hispanic White, fairly well educated, had internet access, and lived in the Western region of the U.S.

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions:
The authors suggested that the lack of association between respite care receipt and mothers’ stress or depression may be explained by other variables not measured in this study, such as financial and job stress or by the fact that that single mothers are saturated with stress and thus not as impacted by respite care as those caregivers whose conditions are less intense. They recommended research to determine how much more respite is needed to make a positive impact on depression and stress of single mothers of children with ASD and recommended applied research and public policies to improve access to respite care for single mothers of children with ASD.