Mindful Parenting: A New Approach to Supporting Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Saturday, May 14, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
A. C. Voos1, T. Vernon1, A. Navab2 and E. McGarry3, (1)University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, (2)University of California Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, CA, (3)Koegel Autism Center, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Background: Research has consistently demonstrated that parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience elevated levels of stress when compared to parents of typically developing and developmentally disabled children (e.g. Hayes & Watson, 2013). High levels of stress have been associated with more negative parenting practices (Baydar et al., 2003), and eliminate the positive effects of intervention for young children with autism (Osborne et al., 2008). Historically, parent stress has been targeted through skills based parent training programs. While parent training can help support parents around the time of initial diagnosis (Keen et al., 2010), reports of elevated levels of stress persist in those who have received extensive parent training (e.g. Singh et al., 2006; 2014). Research also suggests that parent training may be less effective for parents experiencing high level of stress (Robbins, Dunlap & Pleinis, 1992). This combined with research demonstrating that stress related to having a child with autism tends to be chronic and persistent over time (Dyson, 1993) calls for additional support for these parents.

Mindfulness, or awareness that emerges through nonjudgmentally paying attention, on purpose, to the unfolding of experience in the present moment (Kabat-Zinn 2003), is associated with increased life satisfaction, decreased depression and anxiety, improved emotion regulation, and decreased experiential avoidance (Keng, Smoski & Robins, 2011). Due to the normative level of stress that comes with parenting in general, researchers have introduced mindfulness to parents. Mindful parenting has been utilized with parents of children with disruptive and externalizing behaviors, and developmental disabilities (e.g. Bogels et al., 2008). Results indicate that mindfulness training increased happiness for the individual with the disability (Singh et al., 2004), decreased child behavior problems (Singh et al., 2006; 2007), and decreased parental stress (e.g. Ferraioli & Harris, 2013). Importantly, research also demonstrates that for parents of children with autism specifically, higher levels of mindful parenting are associated with lower levels of parental distress (Beer et al., 2013) and improvements in parent-child interactions (Coatsworth et al., 2010).

Objectives: The current study aims to investigate whether an 8 week mindful parenting group for parents of children with ASD (based on the curriculum by Bogels & Restifo, 2014) will increase parents’ mindfulness, as measured by the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (Baer et al., 2006: FFMQ), and decrease parenting stress, as measured by the Parent Stress Index (Abdin, 1990; PSI) 

Methods: Two groups (n=14) met weekly for 90 minutes, during which time parents were introduced to a meditation and mindful parenting exercise, and discussed their patterns and experience of parenting stress. Preliminary pre-post data will be assessed using dependent measures t-test.

Results: After participation, parents demonstrated decreased total stress t(13)= -2.29, p=.020 and child related stress, t(13)= -2.10, p=.028. Parents did not demonstrate significant increases in overall mindfulness, but importantly, demonstrated an increase in nonjudgmental attitude towards themselves t(13)=2.69, p=.009.

Conclusions: This preliminary data suggests that group mindfulness training may help to support parents of children with ASD by reducing overall stress and self-judgment about their own experiences.