Thursday, July 31, 2014

Peer-led groups treat distress in moms of kids with autism

By Louise Kinross

Parent-led groups in mindfulness meditation and positive psychology significantly reduce stress, depression and anxiety in mothers of kids with developmental disabilities like autism, according to a July 21 study in Pediatrics.

Two-hundred and forty-three mothers—65 per cent with children with autism and the rest with other developmental disabilities—were randomized into either a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction group using breathing exercises or a positive psychology group that focuses on cognitive exercises like curbing negative thoughts and practising gratitude.

Six weekly, 90-minute sessions were run by mothers of children with disabilities. They received four months of training and were supervised.

At baseline, 85 per cent of participants had significantly high stress, almost half were clinically depressed and 41 per cent had anxiety disorders.

Both treatments led to significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety and improved sleep and life satisfaction. The drops in depression and anxiety were large. Mothers in the mindfulness group had greater improvements than those in the positive psychology group. Only one treatment difference was seen in the disability groups: Mothers of children with autism improved less in anxiety. Mothers continued to improve or maintain gains during a six-month follow-up.

Researchers suggest that further research should look at groups that incorporate aspects of both mindfulness and positive psychology.

“Our research and findings from others labs indicate that many mothers of children with disabilities have a blunted cortisol response, indicative of chronic stress,” says lead investigator Elizabeth Dykens, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and professor of psychology. They also have reduced immune function and shorter telomeres—the protective cap on the ends of strands of DNA—which indicates speeded up cellular aging.

“Compared with mothers of typically developing children, mothers of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities experience more stress, psychiatric problems and poorer health,” the researchers say. Although the “cumulative stress and disease burden of these mothers is exceptionally high…policies and practices primarily serve the identified child with disabilities.”

The researchers call for more research on how trained peer mentors can work with professionals to address unmet mental health needs of mothers of children with developmental disabilities.


This is so interesting! It's an area of research that NeuroDevNet has funded.