Reducing stress in parents of children with autism

woman breathing out

Early behavioral intervention — often delivered by parents — appears to improve outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Studies show, however, that the parents are experiencing high levels of psychological stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which can reduce stress and improve sleep, health and life satisfaction, may be useful for parents of children with ASD.

Amy Weitlauf smiling

Amy Weitlauf, Ph.D.

Amy Weitlauf, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Associate Director of Research for the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), and colleagues conducted a pilot study to compare the parent-implemented Early Start Denver Model (P-ESDM) alone or with added MBSR. In a randomized controlled trial of children younger than 36 months with ASD and their caregivers, the investigators found that parents who received MBSR plus P-ESDM had greater improvements in parental distress and parent-child dysfunctional interactions than parents receiving P-ESDM only.

The results, reported in Pediatrics, suggest that stress-reduction strategies may be beneficial for parents of children with ASD and have implications for care systems that use parent-delivered interventions.

The research was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration and Maternal and Child Health Bureau with core support from the National Institutes of Health (grant HD008321).

Leigh MacMillan is an information officer and science writer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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