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Moms of kids with autism feel sting of blame for kids’ behavior

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Cute boy lying on the bed and use the phone while mother sleeps, selective focus

NEW HAVEN – Despite increased societal awareness of autism in recent years, mothers of children with the disorder say they continue to be blamed for their kids’ common behavioral issues.

In fact, moms say they that blame game even emanates from educational professionals in their children’s schools.

That was the conclusion of a study conducted by Julie Piepenbring, SCSU assistant professor of social work and executive vice president at the Cromwell-based Adelbrook Behavioral and Developmental Services. Adelbrook is a residential treatment center, special education school and family treatment center.

Piepenbring’s research examined the challenges faced by mothers of teens with highly functioning autism, and served as the focus of her dissertation while a doctoral student at Fordham University. She received her Ph.D. last spring.

“It may not be that surprising that onlookers at a supermarket might blame a parent for their kid having a meltdown since others are probably not aware of the autism diagnosis,” Piepenbring said. “But with the increased awareness of autism by educators, you would think this occurrence would be less prevalent in the schools.

“The moms felt that high functioning autism was not well understood by educators and school personnel,” she added. “Specifically, several mothers reported feeling that their child was viewed as oppositional or rude.”

Piepenbring said she can’t prove that these critical judgments actually were happening, but the perception was nearly universal among the mothers she interviewed in-depth for the study. She said they felt they were being viewed as too lenient in their parenting, and that somehow they were responsible for their child’s behavior.

Piepenbring said that mothers also reported that they felt criticized by family, friends and others who would often attribute their child’s symptoms and behavioral difficulties to their parenting style and/or ability.

She said she focused on mothers, rather than fathers, because they generally continue to be the primary caretakers of children, and that previous studies have shown that women raising children with an autism spectrum disorder are more likely to experience depression and anxiety and report lower rates of overall well-being.