April 21, 2020

Reducing stress in parents of children with autism

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders benefited from the addition of mindfulness-based stress reduction to parent-implemented behavioral interventions.

by Leigh MacMillan

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, PhD, 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 the April issue of 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.

This 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).