Rise in Asperger Syndrome Diagnosis Leads to Concern Over Maternal Health Care Practices
Tuesday, March 01, 2016
Leading Nursing Journal Explores Critical Role of Nurses on Childbearing Experiences of Women with Asperger’s Syndrome
Washington, DC – March 1, 2016 – During the last two decades, an increasing number of young women have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome due to heightened awareness about the condition and advances in diagnosis. With many of these women soon entering the childbearing and parenting phase of their lives, a specialized approach to health care is needed to ensure optimal health outcomes for these women and their infants.
Due to the relatively recent emergence and increased awareness of Asperger syndrome, little is known about the childbearing experiences of women with Asperger’s. In “Exploratory Study of Childbearing Experiences of Women with Asperger Syndrome,” Marcia Gardner, PhD, CPNP, RN, CPN; Patricia Suplee, PhD, RNC-OB; Joan Bloch, PhD, CRNP; and Karen Lecks, MSN, CRNP, studied the experiences of women with Asperger syndrome during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as their early experiences adapting to becoming mothers. Their research and findings were published in the February/March 2016 issue of Nursing for Women’ Health, the clinical practice journal of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.
Asperger syndrome is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by repetitive behaviors, difficulty with social interactions, and sometimes delayed motor development. Individuals with the condition often have challenges understanding nonverbal communication and emotional (nonliteral) phrases. Asperger’s is difficult to diagnose and can go undetected until a child or adult begins to show signs of the inability to socialize normally. Other potential signs include unusual behaviors, resistance to change or transitions, anxiety, tantrums, and unexpected reactions to common experiences.
In their study, the authors found that most of the women had difficulty processing sensations related to pregnancy and also experienced increased sensitivity to touch, light, sounds, and interaction. During labor, many women felt a lack of control over themselves and their environment. After birth, many women found it challenging to understand their infants’ behaviors and needs and to connect emotionally with them. For this reason, the authors recommend that nurses and other clinicians become more aware of this condition in an effort to provide more specialized care. The study found that women responded more positively to nurses demonstrating infant care in real-life context, than to having it explained verbally or in written materials.
Additionally, other psychiatric conditions frequently occur in people with Asperger’s. The most common are hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety, which have been reported in up to 50 to 70% of individuals with Asperger syndrome. These alarming figures suggest that nurses and clinicians should employ strategies to support new mothers with Asperger’s. A thorough risk assessment of each woman’s health is essential so that a tailored program of care can be carried out during the various stages of pregnancy and childbirth.
“Small improvements in the provision of health care, based on awareness of the perceptions of women with Asperger syndrome, can make a difference in the overall childbearing experience,” wrote the authors. “More research with childbearing women on the autism spectrum is needed to develop a foundation for best practice of care.”
“The experience of childbirth and becoming a mother presents unique challenges for women with chronic health conditions,” said AWHONN’s CEO Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN. “Nurses and other clinicians are at the frontline to ensure optimal maternal and infant health outcomes with a sensitive and individualized health care approach.”
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About Nursing for Women's Health
Nursing for Women's Health is a bimonthly refereed clinical practice journal of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. The journal circulates to more than 25,000 nurses who care for women and newborns and is available online at http://nwh.awhonn.org.
Since 1969, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) has been the foremost authority promoting the health of women and newborns and strengthening the nursing profession through the delivery of superior advocacy, research, education, and other professional and clinical resources. AWHONN represents the interests of 350,000 registered nurses working in women's health, obstetric, and neonatal nursing across the United States. Learn more about AWHONN at www.awhonn.org.