School of Paediatrics and Child Health

Postgraduate Research Profiles

Jenny Fairthorne 

Contact

Jenny Fairthorne

School of Paediatrics & Child Health
M561
The University of Western Australia
Princess Margaret Hospital for Children
PO Box D 184, Subiaco
WA 6840

Phone (+61) 9340 8625
Fax (+61) 9388 2097

Supervisors

Start Date

May 2011

Submission Date

November 2014


Jenny Fairthorne

Thesis

Pre-existing differences and the health of mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability compared to other mothers.

Summary

The diagnostic prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is currently about 1% and has continued to increase over the last 30 years while the prevalence of intellectual disability is stable and around 1.4%.  Researchers have found that women with particular diseases and exposures are more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder. For example; women with an auto-immune disorder are more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder. Further, a number of maternal demographic associations are often reversed for autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. For example; women of certain ethnicities are less likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder and more likely to have a child with intellectual disability.  Caring for a child with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability is challenging and women with children with these disabilities have poorer health than other mothers. No researchers have explored pre-existing associations or the health of mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability whilst allowing for the level of the intellectual disability, whether the cause is known or whether or not the autism is associated with intellectual disability. Exploring pre-existing associations in these mothers may uncover risk factors and clues as to the aetiologies of these disorders.  Identifying health outcomes in subgroups of these women will enable the informed development of services and interventions to assist these women to improve their health.

Therefore, the aims of this study were to:

  • Identify maternal pre-existing risk factors for having a child with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability
  • Compare the health of mothers of a child with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability to mothers of children without these disorders
  • Identify factors which impacted the health-related quality of life of mothers of a child with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability

Using linked Western Australian health data, I compared the risk of having a subsequent child with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability in women with a psychiatric disorder. This linked data has also enabled me to compare the mortality rates, cause of death and hospitalisations in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability to mothers of children without these disabilities. In addition, I have explored the health-related quality of life of mothers of a child with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability by conducting in-depth, one-to-one interviews of 16 women.  A future study using linked data will compare the rates of autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability in women from different ethnic groups and according to whether or not they were born in Australia. The comparator group will be Australian born, Caucasian women.

Why my research is important

My research is very important from both a family perspective and a public health perspective.  Exploring pre-existing associations might enable the identifying of modifiable risk factors for autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability. In turn, reducing exposure to these modifiable risk factors may enable the prevalence of these disorders to be reduced. Identifying the most common causes of early death in mothers of children with these disabilities will enable relevant health promotions to be instigated to inform these women of potential risks to their health and the possible means to improve it.  In such ways, fewer children might be born with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability and the health of mothers might be improved so that they are more able to care for both their children with and without these disabilities

Funding

  • Australian Postgraduate Award
  • UWA Top Up Award

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Last updated:
Monday, 25 August, 2014 5:03 PM

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