Improve the Psychological Well-Being of Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“mindfulness instruction may help to ease the stress of parenting young children with autism.” – B. Grace Bullock
Providing care for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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 ASD 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.
A therapeutic technique that contains mindfulness training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It focuses on the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how they interact to impact their psychological and physical well-being. It then works to change thinking to alter the interaction and produce greater life satisfaction. ACT employs mindfulness practices to increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. ACT teaches individuals to “just notice”, accept and embrace private experiences and focus on behavioral responses that produce more desirable outcomes. It is not known whether ACT can improve the psychological well-being of parents of children with autism spectrum disorder.
In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Improving Psychological Well-Being in Parents of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7892587/ ) Marino and colleagues recruited families with children between the ages of 4-10 and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and randomly assigned them to receive 24 weekly 90-minute sessions of either Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or positive parent training to teach behavioral management skills to the children. The parents were measured before and after training for psychological flexibility, their emotions, the severity of disruptive and non-compliant behaviors in the children, behavior congruent with values, mindfulness, parental distress, parent-child dysfunction, and difficult child measures.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the positive parent training group, the group that received either Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) had significantly greater improvements in psychological flexibility, their emotions, the severity of disruptive and non-compliant behaviors in the children, behavior congruent with values, mindfulness, and parental distress.
The results are exciting particularly because of the strength of the research design. The control condition was an alternative therapy that met similarly over a similar period of time. This controls for most sources of research confounding which greatly improves the strength of the conclusions. These results suggest that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a safe and effective treatment for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder improving the parent’s psychological well-being and also the children’s’ behavior.. One of the key differences between ACT and positive parent training is the training in mindfulness. This suggests that mindfulness may be the key training for the benefits to the parents.
So, improve the psychological well-being of parents of children with autism spectrum disorder with mindfulness.
“mindfulness means that parents are developing more compassion for themselves instead of feeling like it’s the end of the world when they do yell. Instead, they can mindfully reflect, repair if needed, and try again.” Katy Oberle
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Marino, F., Failla, C., Chilà, P., Minutoli, R., Puglisi, A., Arnao, A. A., Pignolo, L., Presti, G., Pergolizzi, F., Moderato, P., Tartarisco, G., Ruta, L., Vagni, D., Cerasa, A., & Pioggia, G. (2021). The Effect of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Improving Psychological Well-Being in Parents of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Brain sciences, 11(7), 880. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11070880
Background: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has been demonstrated as effective in improving psychological well-being in several clinical domains, but there is no evidence regarding the parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Methods: In this randomized controlled trial, we evaluated the efficacy of the ACT matrix behavioral protocol in comparison to the Parent Training (PT) program, measuring several primary and secondary outcomes prior to and following treatments. Twelve parents were randomly and equally assigned to two demographically matched groups wherein individuals underwent 24 weekly meetings of ACT protocol (experimental group) or conventional PT (control group). Results: Parents enrolled in the ACT protocol demonstrated significant improvement in psychological flexibility, awareness states, personal values in everyday life, and parental stress, whereas reduced scores were elicited in parents’ perceptions of their child’s disruptive behaviors. Conclusions: The results of this randomized controlled trial, if repeated with a large number of subjects, could open the way to include ACT protocols in daily practice to support the development of new parenting skills.