Objectives: Obtaining a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a child is a pivotal point in developing the treatment plan for the child but can also be regarded as highly stressful by parents. The current study examined the impact of different aspects of the diagnosis process on the self-reported mental health of mothers of children undergoing a diagnosis for ASD in a cross-sectional cohort design.
Methods: One-hundred-fifty-eight mothers of consequently diagnosed children with ASD participated. The severity of the children's ASD and their intellectual functioning was assessed within twelve months of the diagnosis, and the mothers completed a psychometric assessment battery including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, General Health Questionnaire, and Questionnaire on Resources and Stress.
Results: The actual time from first reporting a problem to obtaining a diagnosis, and the speed of the diagnostic process from first to last appointment, were both negatively related to patenting stress. In contrast, mothers' perceptions of the speed and helpfulness of the process were negatively related to levels of anxiety and depression. The number of professionals involved in the process and the perceived coherence of the diagnosis were also negatively related to aspects of mothers' functioning.
Conclusions: Care is needed to help mothers through the diagnostic process with regard to their own functioning. Providing information and help sources throughout the process, while keeping the number of professionals involved to a minimum, may improve the parent perception of the process and reduce the negative impacts of the diagnosis on the family as a whole.
Keywords: ASD; ASD diagnosis; anxiety; diagnostic coherence; parent health.