Population-based investigation of behaviour problems and parental well-being in children with autistic spectrum disorders

Lead Research Organisation: Bangor University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


Research shows that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have more behavioural and emotional problems than other children. Parents of children with ASD also report substantially more psychological distress than other parents. Such findings have important implications for our understanding of how best to offer support to children with ASD, their families, and our understanding of the challenges faced by these families during the child's development. Problems with existing research data include that they are derived from studies of samples that are likely to be biased (eg families referred to services for support) and ASD is also associated with intellectual disability (low IQ). Intellectual disability is independently associated with child behavioural and emotional problems and also parental distress.

Existing research has not been designed to understand whether ASD, intellectual disability, or a combination of the two is mainly responsible for existing research findings. We will address shortcomings in previous studies by carrying out secondary analysis of large-scale population-based national databases of children where it is possible to identify both ASD and intellectual disability (and their co-occurence). This will be done in two databases - the Office of National Statistics mental health surveys of British children, and the Millennium Cohort Study.


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Description We made four main discoveries:

Children with autism, with or without additional intellectual disability, have higher rates of behavioural and emotional problems than typically developing children and those with intellectual disability alone.

Maternal mental health problems mirrored the findings focused on child outcomes - mothers reported most problems when their child had autism, whether or not they had an additional intellectual disability.

Maternal positive well-being did not differ across study groups.

These inequalities in child behavioural and emotional problems and maternal mental health problems emerge early - at least by the time the child with disability is five years of age.
Exploitation Route Our findings can be used to highlight the mental health needs of children with autism and/or intellectual disability, and also the support needs of their parents - especially mothers.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare

Description Our findings have been used to inform further research, and have had considerable academic impact. We have not yet been able to find evidence of the findings being used directly to inform other impact.