Mothers of children with autism benefit from peer-led intervention

Peer-led interventions that target parental well-being can significantly reduce stress, depression and anxiety in mothers of children with disabilities, according to new findings released today in the journal Pediatrics.

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Vanderbilt University examined two treatment programs in a large number of primary caregivers of a child with a disability. Participants in both groups experienced improvements in mental health, sleep and overall and showed less dysfunctional parent-child interactions.

"The well-being of this population is critically important because, compared to parents of typically developing children, parents of children with experience substantially higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and as they age, physical and medical problems," said lead author Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor and director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and professor of Psychology and Human Development, Pediatrics and Psychiatry. "Add to this the high prevalence of developmental – about one in five children – and the fact that most adult children with intellectual disabilities remain at home with aging parents, we have a looming public health problem on our hands."

Nearly 250 of children with autism or other disabilities were randomized into one of two programs: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Positive Adult Development (PAD). The MBSR approach is more physical, emphasizing breathing exercises, deep belly breathing, meditation and gentle movement. The PAD approach is more cognitive and uses exercises such as practicing gratitude.

Supervised peer mentors, all mothers of with disabilities, received four months of training on the intervention curriculum, the role of a mentor and research ethics. The peer mentors led six weeks of group treatments in 1.5-hour weekly sessions with the research participants.

At baseline, 85 percent of participants had significantly elevated stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent had anxiety disorders.

Both the MBSR and PAD treatments led to significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety and improved sleep and life satisfaction among participants, and mothers in both treatments also showed fewer dysfunctional parent-child interactions. While mothers in the MBSR treatment saw the greatest improvements, participants in both treatments continued to improve during follow-up, and improvements in other areas were sustained up to six months after treatment.

"Our research and findings from other labs indicate that many mothers of have a blunted cortisol response, indicative of chronic stress," Dykens said. "Compared to mothers in control groups, this population mounts a poorer antibody response to influenza vaccinations, suggesting a reduced ability to fight both bacterial and viral infections. They also have shorter telomeres, associated with an advanced cellular aging process, and have poorer sleep quality, which can have deleterious health effects. All of this results in parents who are less available to manage their child's special needs or challenging behaviors."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Support needed to offset mother's stress levels

Jun 09, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A lack of collaborative support for the mothers of children with autism reaching school age is causing them high levels of stress, according to a Curtin University study.

New parenting program benefits ADHD children

May 24, 2013

A new program for treating the emotional health of mothers of children with ADHD has shown significant benefits for the children themselves, finds a new study by University of Maryland researchers. The program combines treatment ...

Recommended for you

Life-saving promise in simple steps

5 hours ago

The debate over the best time to clamp a baby's umbilical cord has been around forever. In about 350 BCE, Aristotle, reputedly the world's first genuine scientist, advocated delaying clamping until placenta ...

PCV13 recommended for 6- to 18-year-olds at high risk

21 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 13 (PCV13) should be administered to certain children aged 6 through 18 years who are at high risk of invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), according to a policy ...

Brain abnormality found in group of SIDS cases

Nov 25, 2014

More than 40 percent of infants in a group who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) were found to have an abnormality in a key part of the brain, researchers report. The abnormality affects the hippocampus, ...

Eczema cases rising among US children

Nov 24, 2014

(HealthDay)—A growing number of children are being diagnosed with the allergic skin condition eczema—but it can usually be eased with topical treatments, according to a new report.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.