Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 10, pp 2426–2434

Trajectories of Diurnal Cortisol in Mothers of Children with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities: Relations to Health and Mental Health

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10803-013-1791-1

Cite this article as:
Dykens, E.M. & Lambert, W. J Autism Dev Disord (2013) 43: 2426. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1791-1


This study used a stress biomarker, diurnal cortisol, to identify how elevated stress in mothers of children and adults with autism and other disabilities relates to their health and mental health. Based on semi-parametric, group-based trajectory analysis of 91 mothers, two distinctive cortisol trajectories emerged: blunted (63 %) or steep (37 %). Mothers in the blunted (vs. steep) trajectory had higher stress levels, lower health ratings, and 89 % of mothers of children with autism, and 53 % with other disabilities, belonged to this trajectory. Atypical cortisol awakening responses and evening rises were differentially associated with anxiety, depression, health problems and employment status. Stress-reducing interventions are needed for parents of children with autism and other disabilities that include biomarkers as indices of risk or treatment outcome.


Diurnal cortisol Mothers of children with disabilities Health Mental health 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Psychology and Human Development, Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Vanderbilt Kennedy CenterVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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