Well-being of parents of children with autism and related disabilities

Jones, L., et al. (2018). A mindfulness parent well-being course: Evaluation of outcomes for parents of children with autism and related disabilities recruited through special schools. European Journal of Special Needs Education33(1), 16-30.

Abstract. Parents of children with intellectual disabilities and/or autism have been shown to experience higher levels of distress than other parents. Despite such data having been available for several decades, the evidence base for psychological interventions to support parental well-being is small. Recent data suggest that both mindfulness and acceptance processes are associated with decreased psychological distress for parents of children with intellectual disability and/or autism. In addition, some controlled evaluations of mindfulness-based interventions for these parents have resulted in positive outcomes for mothers in particular.

In the present study 18 mothers and 3 fathers were recruited via special schools who then attended a Mindfulness Based Well-Being for Parents (MBW-P) group over eight weeks. Parents completed questionnaire measures before and at the end of the course. Statistical analysis showed significant reported increases in mindfulness and self-compassion, and reduced general stress. Parents also reported reductions in anxiety and depression, although these changes were not statistically significant.

No significant reductions in their child’s behaviour problems or increases in the child’s prosocial behaviour were found. Parents also reported high levels of satisfaction with the course. These preliminary data suggest that further research studies testing the effectiveness of the MBW-P course are warranted.

Mindfulness and autism spectrum disorders

de Bruin, E. I., Blom, R., Smit, F. M., van Steensel, F. J., & Bögels, S. M. (2014). MYmind: Mindfulness training for Youngsters with autism spectrum disorders and their parents. Autism, 1362361314553279. Published online before printing.

From the Abstract. Despite the dramatic increase in autism spectrum disorder in youth and the extremely high costs, hardly any evidence-based interventions are available. The aim of this study is to examine the effects of mindfulness training for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, combined with Mindful Parenting training.

A total of 23 adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, referred to a mental health clinic, received nine weekly sessions of mindfulness training in group format. Their parents (18 mothers, 11 fathers) participated in parallel Mindful Parenting training. A pre-test, post-test, and 9-week follow-up design was used.Adolescents reported an increase in quality of life and a decrease in rumination, but no changes in worry, autism spectrum disorder core symptoms, or mindful awareness.

Although parents reported no change in adolescent’s autism spectrum disorder core symptoms, they reported improved social responsiveness, social communication, social cognition, preoccupations, and social motivation. About themselves, parents reported improvement in general as well as in parental mindfulness. They reported improved competence in parenting, overall parenting styles, more specifically a less lax, verbose parenting style, and an increased quality of life.

Stress in mothers of children with autism

Conner, C. M., & White, S. W. (2014). Stress in mothers of children with autism: Trait mindfulness as a protective factor. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(6), 617-624. Abstract.

Mindfulness-based interventions may reduce parents’ stress and improve parent–child relationships. Given the chronic nature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and its influence on parents’ stress, interventions to promote mindfulness may be especially helpful for parents of children with ASD.

Prior to undertaking intervention development, it is first necessary to establish the relationship between mindfulness and stress, as other factors like child behavioral difficulties may overshadow the mother’s regulation strategies. In a sample of mothers of children with ASD (n = 67) and a comparison sample of mothers without ASD (n = 87), mindfulness was significantly associated with the level of maternal stress above and beyond child behavior problems.

Results suggest that interventions to promote mindfulness may be helpful in reducing parenting stress among mothers of children with ASD, as well as mothers of typically developing children. Due to the chronic nature of ASD, such interventions may be particularly applicable.