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Mindfulness training for parents of children with ASD studied

Oct. 30, 2014, 9:27 AM

Amy Weitlauf, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, will be leading a study among parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness training as part of early interventions for children with ASD.

Amy Weitlauf, Ph.D.

Through a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Grant No. R40MC27706), Weitlauf and colleagues from Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) will teach all participating parents to use the Early Start Denver Model, an intervention method aimed at early treatment of ASD.

Half of participating families will also receive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to help parents manage their own stress levels. Techniques used will include breathing exercises, meditation and gentle movement.

The researchers will look at outcomes related to child, parent and family functioning — such as how a parent is sleeping or how many words a child is saying — and compare the parents who got MBSR to parents who did not, to see if there are any differences in these outcomes over time.

“One of my roles is to diagnose young children with ASD, and I have spoken with hundreds of parents about their everyday stress levels and challenges,” Weitlauf said. “This motivates me to study whether we can help parents take care of themselves as well as their children, and if that in turn helps everyone.”

Previous research has shown that parents of children with ASD have higher levels of stress and anxiety than parents of children with other developmental disabilities. Yet, despite known intense stress, most early intervention programs do not directly treat parents, said TRIAD Director Zachary Warren, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Special Education.

“This study represents a potential new paradigm for thinking about how we should deliver evidence-based early interventions to children, parents and families,” Warren said.

Weitlauf hopes the results of this study will ultimately help other professionals working with children with ASD to recognize the family members’ treatment needs, as well as help parents make informed decisions about care not just for their children but for themselves.

This research builds upon a recent Pediatrics study by Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor and director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, which found that peer-led interventions targeting parental well-being can significantly reduce stress, depression and anxiety in mothers of children with disabilities.

Additional team members involved in this research include Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education, and Pablo Juarez, M.Ed., associate director of TRIAD.

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