For All the Moms with Autistic Children

Having a child or children with autism spectrum disorder can be hard on families, but can be especially hard on the immediate caregivers. Studies have shown that parents of children with developmental disabilities experience higher stress levels than caregivers of children without disabilities. And though we pay much of our attention to the needs of these children and ways to make sure they have the same opportunities as the rest of their peers, we cannot forget the daily efforts being made by their caregivers provide the best. Researchers say that more attention ought to be paid to the unique needs of these parents.

In a recent study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics looked at how providing mothers of kids with developmental disabilities the resources to manage their stress can actually go a long way towards reducing depression and anxiety. Elisabeth Dykens of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, and her colleagues led the study where they provided two treatment programs and found that weekly training sessions with trained mentors had a positive impact on helping them interact more constructively with their children. Assessments taken before the study of the 243 mothers showed that 85 percent had elevated levels of stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed, and 41 percent had anxiety disorders.  After completing just six hour-and-a-half long sessions, the mothers in both treatment groups were already less stressed, less anxious, and less depressed, leading to better sleep patterns and overall greater life satisfaction.

The mindfulness-based stress reduction program included breathing exercises, deep-belly breathing, meditation, and gentle movements. The other program, called positive adult development, focused on exercises that promote gratitude, forgiveness, grace, and optimism, in an effort to temper emotions such as guilt, worry, and pessimism. These programs were all conducted by other mothers of children with developmental disabilities who received four months of training on the programs. The mothers in the stress reduction program actually showed the most overall improvement, though both groups saw improvements even after the six month study ended.

“The well-being of this population is critically important,” Elisabeth Dykens says, “We have a looming public health problem on our hands.” A mentally healthy caregiver will have better results in providing for their autistic child and it’s important to also include their well being in the context of creating brighter futures for our children. 

To read the orignal study, click here