A Phenotype of Childhood Autism Is Associated with Preexisting Maternal Anxiety and Depression

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2019 Apr;47(4):731-740. doi: 10.1007/s10802-018-0469-8.


This study explored whether ASD phenotypes in the child were associated with a history of anxiety or depression in the mother. We hypothesized that an ASD profile in children characterized by mild delays and increased rates of dysregulation would be associated with preexisting maternal anxiety or depression. Participants were 672 preschool children with ASD and their mothers. Children were classified as ASD after a comprehensive developmental evaluation. Mothers reported whether a healthcare provider ever diagnosed them with anxiety or depression before the birth of their child. Four child ASD phenotypes were derived from latent class analysis: Mild Language Delay with Cognitive Rigidity (Type 1), Significant Developmental Delay with Repetitive Motor Behaviors (Type 2), General Developmental Delay (Type 3), and Mild Language and Motor Delay with Dysregulation (i.e., aggression, anxiety, depression, emotional reactivity, inattention, somatic complaints, and sleep problems) (Type 4). Type 2 ASD served as the referent category in statistical analyses. Results showed that 22.6% of mothers reported a diagnosis of anxiety or depression before the birth of their child. Maternal anxiety or depression was associated with 2.7 times the odds (95% confidence interval: 1.4, 5.3) of Type 4 or Dysregulated ASD in the child; maternal anxiety and depression was associated with 4.4 times the odds (95% confidence interval: 1.4, 14.0) of Type 4 or Dysregulated ASD in the child. Our findings suggest an association between Dysregulated ASD in the child and anxiety and depression in the mother. These findings can enhance screening methods and inform future research efforts.

Keywords: Anxiety; Autism; Depression; Maternal; Phenotype.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety* / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / classification
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers* / statistics & numerical data
  • Phenotype