Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 42, Issue 9, pp 1818–1826 | Cite as

Social Support and Well-being at Mid-Life Among Mothers of Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Leann E. SmithEmail author
  • Jan S. Greenberg
  • Marsha Mailick Seltzer
Original Paper


The present study investigated the impact of social support on the psychological well-being of mothers of adolescents and adults with ASD (n = 269). Quantity of support (number of social network members) as well as valence of support (positive support and negative support) were assessed using a modified version of the “convoy model” developed by Antonucci and Akiyama (1987). Having a larger social network was associated with improvements in maternal well-being over an 18-month period. Higher levels of negative support as well as increases in negative support over the study period were associated with increases in depressive symptoms and negative affect and decreases in positive affect. Social support predicted changes in well-being above and beyond the impact of child behavior problems. Implications for clinical practice are discussed.


Social support Mothers Well-being Adolescence Adulthood 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging to support longitudinal research on families of adolescents and adults with autism (R01 AG08768, M. M. Seltzer, PI). We are extremely grateful to the families who participated in this study; without their generous support and commitment, our research would not be possible. We are also grateful for the support we received from the Waisman Center (P30 HD03352, M.M. Seltzer, PI).


  1. Abbeduto, L., Seltzer, M. M., Shattuck, P., Krauss, M. W., Osmond, G., & Murphy, M. M. (2004). Psychological well-being and coping in mothers of youths with autism, Down syndrome, or fragile X syndrome. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 109, 237–254.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akiyama, H., Antonucci, T., Takahashi, K., & Langfahl, E. S. (2003). Negative interactions in close relationships across the life span. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 58, 70–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antonucci, T. C., & Akiyama, H. (1987). Social networks in adult life and a preliminary examination of the convoy model. Journal of Gerontology, 42, 519–527.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. August, K. J., & Sorkin, D. H. (2010). Marital status and gender differences in managing a chronic illness: The function of health-related social control. Social Science and Medicine, 71, 1831–1838.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barker, E. T., Hartley, S. L., Seltzer, M. M., Floyd, F. J., Greenberg, J. S., & Orsmond, G. I. (2010). Trajectories of emotional well-being in mothers of adolescents and adults with autism. Developmental Psychology, 47, 551–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benson, P. R., & Karlof, K. L. (2009). Anger, stress proliferation, and depressed mood among parents of children with ASD: A longitudinal replication. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 350–362.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bishop, S. L., Richler, J., Cain, A. C., & Lord, C. (2007). Predictors of perceived negative impact in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112, 450–461.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blacher, J., Neece, C. L., & Paczkowski, E. (2005). Families and intellectual disability. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18, 507–513.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bromley, J., Hare, D. J., Davison, K., & Emerson, E. (2004). Mothers supporting autistic spectrum disorders: Social support, mental health status, and satisfaction with services. Autism, 8, 409–423.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bruininks, R. H., Woodcock, R. W., Weatherman, R. F., & Hill, B. K. (1996). Scales of independent behavior-revised. Itasca, IL: Riverside.Google Scholar
  11. Carter, A. S., Martinez-Pedraza, F. L., & Gray, S. A. O. (2009). Stability and individual change in depressive symptoms among mothers raising young children with ASD: Maternal and child correlates. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 1270–1280.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dush, C. M. K., & Amato, P. R. (2005). Consequences of relationship status and quality for subjective well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 607–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eisenhower, A. S., Baker, B. L., & Blacher, J. (2005). Preschool children with intellectual disability: Syndrome specificity, behavior problems, and maternal well-being. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49, 657–671.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ekas, N. V., Lickenbrock, D. M., & Whitman, T. L. (2010). Optimism, social support, and well-being in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1274–1284.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ekas, N., & Whitman, T. L. (2010). Autism symptom topography and maternal socioemotional functioning. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 115, 234–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Finch, J. F., Okun, M. A., Barrera, M., Jr., Zautra, A. J., & Reich, J. W. (1989). Positive and negative social ties among older adults: Measurement models and the prediction of psychological distress and well-being. American Journal of Community Psychology, 17, 585–605.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Green, S. A., & Carter, A. S. (2011). Predictors and course of daily living skills development in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. (Online ahead of print). doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1275-0.
  19. Gurney, J., Fritz, M., Ness, K., Sievers, P., Newschaffer, C., & Shapiro, E. (2003). Analysis of prevalence trends of autism spectrum disorder in Minnesota. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 157, 622–627.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ha, J.-H. (2010). The effects of positive and negative support from children on widowed older adults’ psychological adjustment: A longitudinal analysis. The Gerontologist, 4, 471–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hastings, R. P., Allen, R., McDermott, K., & Still, D. (2002). Factors related to positive perceptions in mothers of children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 15, 269–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hastings, R. P., Kovshoff, H., Ward, N. J., degli Espinosa, F., Brown, T., & Remington, B. (2005). Systems analysis of stress and positive perceptions in mothers and fathers of pre-school children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 635–644.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Herring, S., Gray, K., Taffe, J., Tonge, B., Sweeney, D., & Einfeld, S. (2006). Behavior and emotional problems in toddlers with pervasive developmental disorders and developmental delay: Associations with parental mental health and family functioning. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50, 874–882.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ingersoll, B., & Hambrick, D. Z. (2011). The relationship between the broader autism phenotype, child severity, and stress and depression in parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 337–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ingersoll-Dayton, B., Morgan, D., & Antonucci, T. (1997). The effects of positive and negative social exchanges on aging adults. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 52, 190–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism Diagnostic Interview—Revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 659–685.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lounds, J., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., & Shattuck, P. (2007). Transition and change in adolescents and young adults with autism: Longitudinal effects on maternal well-being. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112, 401–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McNair, D., Lorr, M., & Droppleman, L. F. (1971). Profile of mood states. San Diego, CA: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.Google Scholar
  29. Merz, E.-M., & Huxhold, O. (2010). Wellbeing depends on social relationship characteristics: Comparing different types and providers of support to older adults. Ageing & Society, 30, 843–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pearlin, L. I. (1989). The sociological study of stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30, 241–256.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pottie, C. G., Cohen, J., & Ingram, K. M. (2009). Parenting a child with autism: Contextual factors associated with enhanced daily parental mood. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34, 419–429.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rook, K. S. (1984). The negative side of social interaction: Impact on psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1097–1108.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rook, K. S. (2001). Emotional health and positive versus negative social exchanges: A daily diary analysis. Applied Developmental Science, 5, 86–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Hong, J., Smith, L. E., Almeida, D. M., Coe, C., et al. (2010). Maternal cortisol levels and child behavior problems in families of adolescents and adults with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 457–469.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Shattuck, P. T., Wagner, M., Narendorf, S., Sterzing, P., & Hensley, M. (2011). Post-high school service use among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 165, 141–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith, L. E., Hong, J., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Almeida, D. M., & Bishop, S. (2010). Daily experiences among mothers of adolescents and adults with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 167–178.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smith, L. E., Seltzer, M. M., & Greenberg, J. S. (2011). Daily health symptoms of mothers of adolescents and adults with fragile X syndrome and mothers of adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1422-7.
  39. Stack, S., & Eshleman, J. R. (1998). Marital status and happiness: A 17-nation study. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 527–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Taylor, J. L., & Seltzer, M. M. (2011). Employment and post-secondary educational activities for young adults with autism spectrum disorders during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 566–574.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationship and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51, S54–S66. doi: 10.1177/0022146510383501.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Weiss, M. L. (2002). Hardiness and social support as predictors of stress in mothers of typical children, children with autism, and children with mental retardation. Autism, 6, 115–130.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Windsor, T. D., & Anstey, K. J. (2010). Age differences in psychosocial predictors of positive and negative affect: A longitudinal investigation of young, midlife, and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 25, 641–652.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leann E. Smith
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jan S. Greenberg
    • 1
  • Marsha Mailick Seltzer
    • 1
  1. 1.Waisman CenterUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations