Care for Autism Caregivers with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindful Parenting is a contemplative practice through which our connection to our child, and awareness of our child’s presence, helps us become better grounded in the present moment” – Mindful Parent
There is a tremendous demand for caregiving in the US. It is estimated that over 65 million (29% of the adult population) provides care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, averaging 20 hours per week spent caring for their loved ones. This caregiving comes at a cost to the caregiver. It exacts a tremendous toll on caregivers’ health and well-being. Caregiving has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety as well as higher use of psychoactive medications, poorer self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased mortality.
Providing care for a child with autism can be particularly challenging. About one out of every 68 children is considered autistic. These children’s behavior is characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. These make it difficult to relate to the child and receive the kind of positive feelings that often help to support caregiving. The challenges of caring for a child with autism require that the parent be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive to their child. These skills are exactly those that are developed in mindfulness training. It improves the psychological and physiological responses to stress. It improves emotion regulation. And it improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction.
The skills developed with mindfulness training become particularly important with caregiving for children with autism. All of the challenges of parenting become amplified. The application of mindfulness skills to the parents of children with autism is relatively new. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate this further. In today’s Research News article “Effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions on quality of life and positive reappraisal coping among parents of children with autism spectrum disorder.” See:
or see summary below, Rayan and Ahmad recruited parents of children with autism and randomly assigned them to either receive 5 weeks of mindfulness training or a no-treatment control group. Mindfulness training was delivered in weekly 2.5 hour sessions with accompanying homework. The parents were measured prior to and after the training for quality of life, the ability to positively reappraise stress, and mindfulness.
They found that after mindfulness training the parents, not surprisingly, were significantly higher in mindfulness. Importantly, they also had significant improvements in quality of life including both psychological and social aspects and showed significant improvement in their ability to positively reappraise stress. Mindfulness training appear to have relatively powerful effects as all of the effects occurred with moderate to strong effect sizes. So, mindfulness training produced positive improvements in the parents in their ability to cope with the stresses of caring for an autistic child and improved their quality of life.
These results are important. Caring for a child with autism is difficult and takes a toll on the parents. They need help and support. The findings demonstrate that mindfulness training may be a powerful treatment to improve the parents’ quality of life and ability to cope with the stresses. Mindfulness training may do this by focusing attention on the present moment. Thinking about the past problems with the child and looking to future issues can result in deep worry, rumination, and catastrophic thinking. This amplifies the stresses of parenting a child with autism. By moving attention to just dealing with what is occurring in the present, these stresses can be coped with on their own basis alone, without amplification. This should markedly improve the quality of life for the parents.
So, care for autism caregivers with mindfulness.
“through mindfulness practice, we can come home to ourselves, getting on our own best side, attending to our own needs in a way that only we can do for ourselves. Parenting can be so hard, so the intention is to not make it worse. We learn to let go of unrealistic expectations, to love and accept ourselves more and more as we really are, finding more and more wholeness. Our children are in need of our unconditional love. But, we cannot give what we do not possess. Therefore, we must begin first with ourselves, experiencing more and more kindness, compassion and self-acceptance. As a result, this begins to naturally flow to our children, more and more.” – Lisa Kring
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Rayan A, Ahmad M. Effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions on quality of life and positive reappraisal coping among parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Res Dev Disabil. 2016 Aug;55:185-96. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2016.04.002.
- QOL is considered a critical outcome for measuring the effectiveness of intervention programs for parents of children with ASD.
- To date, little is known about the effectiveness of MBI on QOL and coping in parents of children with ASD.
- MBI can improve psychological and social domains of QOL and enhance coping in parents of children with ASD.
- Parents who non-judgmentally respond to their children are expected to report better QOL and positive stress reappraisal coping.
- The MBI should be considered as a supportive intervention to help parents of children with ASD.
Background: Previous research has supported mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) to enhance quality of life (QOL) in different populations, but no studies have been found to examine the effectiveness of MBIs on QOL among parents of children with ASD.
Aim: The purpose of the current study was to examine the effectiveness of brief MBI on perceived QOL and positive stress reappraisal (PSR) among parents of children with ASD.
Methods: A quasi-experimental, with nonequivalent control group design was used. One hundred and four parents of children with ASD were equally assigned to the intervention and control groups. The study groups were matched on measures of their gender and age, and level of severity of ASD in children. The intervention group participated in MBI program for 5 weeks, while the control group had not attended the program.
Results: After the intervention program, results of paired samples t-test indicated that parents in the intervention group demonstrated significant improvements in measures of psychological health domain of QOL, social health domain of QOL, mindfulness, and positive stress reappraisal with medium to large effect size (P < 0.01). The control group demonstrated improvement in measures of the dependent variables with small effect size.
Conclusion: MBI is culturally adaptable, acceptable, and effective method to improve QOL and PSR in parents of children with ASD.