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Two Brief Interventions Reduce Distress in Mothers of Children with Autism

07 May

Researchers from Vanderbilt University investigated the impact of mindfulness practice and positive psychology practice on mothers of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. These mothers are known to live with extra stress, depression and anxiety, from the burdens of caring for their children.

A total of 243 mothers of children with disabilities were randomized into either a 6-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (mindfulness practice) intervention or a 6-week Positive Adult Development (positive psychology practice) intervention.

Well-trained and supervised peer mentors led the 6 weeks of group treatments in 1.5-hour weekly sessions, assessing the mothers 6 times in all: before, during, and after (up to 6 months later) treatment.
Sixty-five percent of the mothers had children with autism and 35% had children with other disabilities (35%).

At baseline, 85% of this sample had significantly elevated stress, 48% were clinically depressed, and 41% had anxiety disorders.

The study found that both treatments led to significant reductions in stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as improved sleep and life satisfaction, with large effects in depression and anxiety.

The mothers in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (versus Positive Adult Development) had greater improvements in anxiety, depression, sleep, and well-being.
Mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder improved less in anxiety, but did not otherwise differ from their counterparts.

The investigators conclude that future studies are warranted to look at how trained mentors and professionals can address the unmet mental health needs of mothers of children with developmental disabilities. Doing so, they say, improves maternal well-being and furthers their long-term care-giving of children with complex developmental, physical, and behavioral needs.

Citation: Elisabeth M. Dykens, PhDa,b,c,d, Marisa H. Fisher, PhDa, Julie Lounds Taylor, PhDa,c, Warren Lambert, PhDa, and Nancy Miodrag, PhDe Reducing distress in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: a randomized trial. Pediatrics. 2014 Aug;134 (2):e454-63. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3164. Epub 2014 Jul 21. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.