Evaluating S.A.F.F.E. A Program for Families with Children Who Have ASD

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
3:00 PM
T. Todd1 and G. Rieck2, (1)California State University, Chico, CA, (2)Kinesiology, California State University, Chico, Chico, CA
Background:  Research has demonstrated that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience higher levels of stress, lower levels of well-being, and lower levels of family harmony than parents of children without ASD or any other type of disability (Baker-Ericzen et al., 2005; Perry et al., 2004). The long-term effect of having a family member with ASD has not been documented; however, increase in parental stress, decrease in family harmony, and higher divorce rates (Hartley et al., 2010) indicate that there is an overall impact on the family.  Regular exercise (Ratey, 2009) and social support can reduce stress (Meadan et al., 2010).  Unfortunately the unique blend of challenges faced by children with ASD makes family outings difficult to impossible. This decreases the potential for exercise and social support for parents. Literature suggests that families who use active coping strategies, for example social support and exercise, experience decreased levels of stress and increased family cohesiveness (Meadan et al., 2010).

Objectives:  To evaluate S.A.F.F.E. (Supporting Active Families in a Friendly Environment), a pilot university-based program designed for families of children with ASD.  The program was evaluated to understand if i) exercise and social contact decreased perceived stress, ii) increased family quality of life (QOL), and iii) family programs reduce barriers to participation in leisure activity.

Methods:  Eight families who have a child with ASD participated in an 11-week exercise program run by exercise physiology and adapted physical education students (14 parents, 15 children). Time spent exercising was recorded using a seven day recall at the beginning and end of the program. Parents completed a questionnaire which assessed family quality of life and answered an open ended question regarding barriers to participation in leisure type programs.  The age range of the parents was 39-56 years old with a mean age of 42.4.

Results:  Families of children with ASD increased the time spent exercising per week during the course of the program (F=5.83, p<0.04).  All participants increased the number of days per week they completed 30 minutes or more of exercise. Participants indicated that they agreed (60%) or strongly agreed (40%) that exercise and social contact with other families of children with ASD reduced stressed and increased family QOL. Twenty-eight percent of the parents reported that the major barrier to participation in family activities in the community was the inflexibility of the child with ASD. The second most common barrier (27%) was time demands related to the child with ASD (therapy, home work). Work commitments (18%), fatigue, injury, and amotivation were also reported as barriers.

Conclusions:  Parents of children with ASD spend more time with childcare and household chores, have more work interruptions, experience more fatigue, have less time for leisure and self-care than parents of children without disabilities (Smith et al., 2010). It is vital to the well-being of children with ASD that family QOL is targeted. The S.A.F.F.E. pilot program was successful in supporting families of children with ASD and reducing parental stress which in turn increased family well-being.

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