Reduce Stress and Improve Behavior in Mothers and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Intellectual Disabilities with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“mindfulness meditation helps people with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder reduce their mental and physical problems.” – Yoon-Suk Hwang
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that tends to appear during early childhood and affect the individual throughout their lifetime. It affects a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others, delays learning of language, makes eye contact or holding a conversation difficult, impairs reasoning and planning, narrows and intensifies interests, produces poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities, and is frequently associated with sleep and gastrointestinal problems. ASD is a serious disorder that impairs the individual’s ability to lead independent lives including complete an education, enter into relationships or find and hold employment. Mindfulness training has been shown to be helpful in treating ASD.
Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. Recent estimates in the United States show that about one in six, or about 15%, of children aged 3 through 17 years have one or more developmental disabilities. Many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are highly aggressive and at time combative. Caring for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be difficult.
Providing care for a child with autism or a developmental disability can be particularly challenging. 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 or a developmental disability 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.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) Training Are Equally Beneficial for Mothers and Their Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder or With Intellectual Disabilities.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00385/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_934868_69_Psycho_20190314_arts_A ), Singh and colleagues recruited mothers of adolescents, aged 13 to 17 years, who had autism or a developmental disability. They were observed and their behavior measured over a 10-week baseline period and then provided a 3-day Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) program consisting of training in meditation and intervening to produce positive behaviors. Daily home practice was encouraged. They were then measured over the subsequent 30 weeks. Measurements were taken of meditation practice and perceived stress and the child’s aggressive and disruptive behaviors, and compliance with the mother’s requests.
They found that during the 10-week baseline that stress levels and the children’s behaviors were stable and unchanging. But during the 30-week follow-up period the mothers had large and significant reductions in perceived stress. They also found that the children displayed large significant increases with compliance with the mother’s requests and large significant decreases in aggressive and disruptive behaviors. Hence the Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) produced marked benefits for the mothers and also the children with autism or a developmental disability.
These are exciting results but the lack of a control condition limits the generalizability of the results. Nevertheless they suggest that a brief, 3-day, program can produce large positive benefits for both the mothers and the children. The improvements in the mothers’ stress levels were probably due to the improvements in the children’s behavior. This all suggests that this or similar programs should be implemented to greatly improve caregiving for children with autism or developmental disabilities.
So, reduce stress and improve behavior in mothers and children with autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities with mindfulness.
“interventions that target stress reduction in parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities may be an effective way to improve caregiver well-being and have collateral effects on child behavior and parent-child interactions.” – Laura Lee McIntyre
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Singh NN, Lancioni GE, Karazsia BT, Myers RE, Hwang Y-S and Anālayo B (2019) Effects of Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) Training Are Equally Beneficial for Mothers and Their Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder or With Intellectual Disabilities. Front. Psychol. 10:385. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00385
Parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or intellectual disabilities (IDs) can be stressful for many parents. Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) is a customized mindfulness program that enables parents and other caregivers to reduce their perceived psychological stress to normative levels through mindfulness procedures and to support children with ASD or ID to self-manage their challenging behaviors through positive behavior support (PBS). In this study, we evaluated whether MBPBS would have differential effects on the stress levels of mothers of adolescents with ASD (n = 47) or with ID (n = 45) and the effects of the program on the aggressive, disruptive, and compliance behaviors of their children. Both groups of mothers participated in the 40-week study (10 weeks control and 30 weeks MBPBS program), rated their own stress levels, and collected daily observational data on the adolescents’ behavior. Results showed significant reductions in the level of stress in both groups of mothers, but no differential effects on mothers of children with ASD or with ID. In addition, significant reductions in aggression and disruptive behavior and increases in compliance behaviors were observed in the adolescents in both groups. The results suggest that MBPBS is equally beneficial for mothers of adolescents with ASD or ID. In the present study, although the mothers of children with ID had slightly higher levels of stress at baseline and mothers of children with ASD had lower levels of stress following the MBPBS program, the program can be considered equally effective in reducing the stress levels of both groups of mothers. This suggests that the program may be effective regardless of baseline levels of mothers’ stress.