Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly Wilson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Thane Erickson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Felice Orlich Ph.D.


The current study explored depression symptoms, parental stress and dispositional mindfulness in mothers of children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study sought to clarify whether parental stress was a risk factor for maternal depression symptomology and if dispositional mindfulness explained the variation in parental stress and depressive symptoms in this population. Participants included 32 mothers of children with typical development (n=21; TD) and ASD (n=11) between the ages of 3:0 and 6:11. Groups differed significantly by child sex (ASD = 81.1% male; TD = 42.9% male). No additional group differences were present for children or mothers in terms of age, verbal abilities, ethnicity, income, relationship status, and education. Self-report measures of maternal depressive symptoms, parental stress, and dispositional mindfulness were collected from both groups. Results indicated that diagnostic status significantly predicted parent reported depression symptoms and stress, such that there was a significant, positive association between mothers of children with ASD, depression; F(1,30) = 8.63 p = .006, R2 = .22 ) and maternal stress b = 14.15, t(30) = 6.37, p < .001, R2 = .58. Parental stress fully mediated the relation between status and depression symptoms, significantly explaining the variance between status and depression and indicating the presence of a full mediation, B = 4.20, CI95 = 1.27 to 7.08. The conditional indirect effect of mindfulness moderating indirect effects of diagnostic status via stress on depression was not significant. Post hoc analyses revealed 73% mothers of children with ASD reported clinically significant depression symptoms, compared to 23% of mothers within the TD group. Correlations displayed lower mindfulness abilities in mothers with higher depression and stress when both groups were combined. The results of this study underscore the significant mental health burden that mothers of children with ASD experience. In particular, mothers of children with ASD are considerably more affected by depression symptoms and have greater stress than mothers of children without ASD. While the results in this study did not support mindfulness as a protective trait for mothers, post hoc analyses imply the possibility that mindfulness may continue to be an important area of intervention.